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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 08:46 GMT
France's workplace revolution
Lorry drivers block off access to an industrial area in Aix-en-Provence
Road chaos: Lorry drivers protest over the 35-hour week
The average French worker has never had it so good - or so it seems.

The introduction of a 35-hour working work means millions of employees spend more time having fun with family and friends, instead of slaving away in the office or factory.

I have more time for shopping and for myself

Financial consultant, Marielle de Jong
The legislation, introduced in phases since it was approved by Parliament in 1999, has resulted in shorter working days, four-day working weeks or extra long holidays.

"The fact that you can leave work in the middle of the day breaks a taboo," financial consultant Marielle de Jong told the BBC Radio 4 programme, French Transformations.

But she is all in favour of it.

"A colleague of mine has taken up piano lessons. I spend a little more time with my child, have more time for shopping and time for myself."

Smarter work

Christian Boiron, chief executive of the Boiron homeopathetic laboratories, also has nothing but praise for the new law and feels productivity is up.

He said: "The more you work, the less you are efficient. If you work less, you are smarter."

But the 35-hour working week has come at a price.

Workers are enjoying long weekend breaks
With fewer people at work at any one time, more jobs have been needed.

And it has largely been the French tax payer who has had to foot bill to pay for their wages.

French corporate taxes are among the highest in the EU and many firms have moved to "business friendlier" countries like the UK.

And that in turn has led to further draconian legislation making it tougher for French firms to move abroad.


But it is not just businesses who are suffering.

It is sometimes hell for the workers

Journalist Sabine Syfuss Arnaud
Sabine Syfuss Arnaud of the financial weekly, L'Expansion, recently visited a company making croissants for supermarkets and discovered problems for workers themselves.

She said: "It is sometimes hell for the workers.

"One explained to me he was working in the same week two days in the morning and then one day in the afternoon and then one day at night.

"So how can you have a family life?"

Meanwhile, the public sector is experiencing a severe staff shortage. Health workers are angry at acute staffing shortages.

Hospitals have been promised 45,000 extra jobs over three years but unions say 80,000 are needed to fill the holes created by the 35-hour working week.

Tourism boom

In general, the 35-hour working week has proved a popular move among the French working population.

Tourism is booming as people discover the joys of getting away from it all on city breaks. At travel agents Nouvelle Frontiers, the boom has led to a 10% increase in staff.

Many are no longer putting off doing those odd-jobs around the home and DIY stores report that they are busier than ever.

French Transformations will be broadcast at the following times:

Radio 4
Tuesday 12, Tuesday 19 and Tuesday 26 March at 2000 GMT

World Service
Friday 15, Friday 22 and Friday 29 March at 2030 GMT

See also:

03 Jan 02 | Europe
France's 'winter of discontent'
31 Aug 01 | Business
New rise in French unemployment
01 Feb 00 | Business
Tackling unemployment
01 Feb 00 | Business
French protests at 35-hour week
01 Jun 01 | Newsnight
35 hour week transcript - 29/5/01
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