Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Gee, the French have discovered that they can't rescind the laws of economics. There law mandating a 35-hour work week didn't spur employment and just ended up hurting lower income people who needed that extra income. Funnily enough, employers didn't leap to pay the same salaries for 35 hours that they had paid for 39 hours. People found, quelle horreur! that they were earning less. And employers didn't run out and hire more people to pull up the slack, especially with all the state-mandated benefits that any employee must receive.
But with unemployment at 10 percent, politicians of all stripes acknowledge that the country's unique 35-hour law has failed in its original ambition: to force employers to hire massively. What's more, there are strong signs that it hurt living standards as employers froze salaries to make up for lost labor.

"The intention was to spread work around, but the effect was to spread our salaries around," Thierry Breton, France's new finance minister, said last week.

A government-backed bill that effectively restores the previous 39-hour workweek is expected to win final approval this week, despite massive public protests earlier this month and denunciations by the now out-of-power Socialists.

Amid soaring unemployment and stagnating wages, the reform is supported by jobseekers and even by factory workers, according to a survey that pollsters CSA published last month — and by 46 percent of the overall population, with 43 percent opposed.

There are other signs that the vision expounded by former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's Socialists now rings hollow in some surprisingly left-wing constituencies.

Often touted as the working mother's godsend, the 35-hour week actually made life harder for poorer women and single parents, according to women's organization CLEF.

"The women that suffered were the lowest paid, who needed all the overtime they could get to make ends meet," said CLEF president Monique Halpern. "I think this is one of the reasons that Lionel Jospin lost the elections."

I don't believe this either.
Clara Gaymard, the globe-trotting head of the French International Investment Agency, contends the 35-hour week has damaged investment in France, mainly because of its negative image in countries like the United States — France's biggest source of investment.

"The perception was that the French didn't want to work any more," she said, whereas French workers remain among the most productive in the world, ahead of Britain, Germany, the United States and Japan, according to the European statistics agency Eurostat.

Gaymard is the wife of former finance minister Herve Gaymard, who resigned last month in a scandal over his lavish publicly funded apartment.

Does anyone out there have any evidence as to whether or not French workers really are more productive than these other nations? How are they defining productivity? It seems very suspect to me.