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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 December, 2004, 13:39 GMT
Raffarin to reform 35-hour week
Jean-Pierre Raffarin
Raffarin hopes his reforms will keep unions and employers on board
France's Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has outlined plans to extend the controversial 35-hour working week.

In a speech setting out his strategy for 2005, he said he would allow employees to work up to an extra 220 hours a year, 40 more than at present.

Some members of the governing UMP party are keen to scrap the law for the 35-hour week, introduced by the previous government to curb unemployment.

Mr Raffarin plans instead to reform the law, and so keep the backing of unions.

In a televised speech, the prime minister repeated President Jacques Chirac's promise not to dump the law itself.

"I propose a new agreement on the working week, an agreement for choosing hours," he said.

Workers and firms will be free to reach deals on overtime provided they respected EU directives, he said.

Turkey talks

Mr Raffarin also said he intended to cut France's unemployment rate by 10% between now and the end of 2005.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt, in Paris, said Mr Raffarin's speech showed the government's desire to avoid antagonising the unions, who are determined to fight to keep the 35-hour week.

The prime minister hopes his speech addresses key concerns of voters and boost the centre-right UMP party's standing in France's opinion polls.

He also needs to satisfy employers who argue the shorter working week makes France less competitive and stifles economic growth.

Mr Raffarin added that his party would campaign for the "yes" vote in the European Union constitution referendum.

He also raised the prospect of EU entry talks with Turkey, saying the EU should be ready to offer Turkey an alternative to membership if negotiations fail.

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