Hollande's Attack on 35-Hour Work Week Angers French Socialists

Photographer: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg
  • Analysts doubt Hollande will make good on threatened reforms
  • Prime Minister Valls due present plan to cabinet next month

President Francois Hollande’s plan to dilute the 35-hour limit on the working week and ease firing rules is creating turmoil among French unions and Socialist lawmakers even before its official release.

Excerpts of the draft bill published by Le Monde newspaper suggest Hollande would allow businesses to increase workers’ hours above the 35-hour cap with minimal compensation and without prior agreement from unions. The bill may make it easier to shed jobs if companies see their orders decline, face new competition or technological changes and could also restrict payouts to those who are fired, according to Le Monde.

“It goes further than might have been expected,” said Antonio Barroso, a political analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London. “This is going to create a huge mess in parliament.”

The labor bill may be Hollande’s last major piece of legislation before the 2017 presidential race. With his personal popularity sagging and unemployment stuck at an 18-year high, the president is trying to show he has the chops to modernize the country.

After re-shuffling his cabinet last week, Hollande pledged to keep on reforming until the end of his mandate and said he intended to increase flexibility in the labor market while maintaining job security for workers. The OECD predicts the French economy will grow 1.2 percent this year, little more than 2015 and less than the 1.5 percent Hollande’s government is predicting.

Room to Negotiate

Yet the first excerpts of the planned law met a hostile reception from many Socialists. The Socialist Party chief Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said he would not support the text in its current form and some of the party’s lawmakers promised to fight the bill.

“This bill is very unbalanced,” Laurent Berger the head of CFDT, one of France’s biggest labor union, told Le Monde Friday. “The thinking is that what prevents hiring is the fear of firing. It’s stupid.”

Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri said Thursday in Les Echos newspaper that she’ll push the bill through parliament even without majority support, using a rare constitutional provision to bypass the lower chamber.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has submitted the bill to France’s state council for review and plans to present it to the cabinet in March. The prime minister wants the parliament to start debating the measures in April.

“The truth is that the government can’t, and doesn’t want to, kill the 35-hour workweek,” said Bruno Cavalier, an economist at Oddo Securities in Paris. “They will keep the basic labor laws and make some adjustments, and not all will be minor ones. But one year before the presidential election, make no mistake: the initial plan sounds big, but the final result may be thin.”

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