France has legally mandatory the 35-hour work week, enshrined in law since 2000. In the context of the current economic and epidemiological crisis, the country (politicians, newspapers) is rethinking the working week and if it cannot be reduced to 32 hours (or a four-day week).
While people sign 35-hour contracts in France, most people work harder, especially in the private sector where a 9-5 days, or more, is normal. Even in the public sector, workers can have weeks longer than 35 hours – in either case, according to the organization, workers can recoup overtime in the form of extra days off.
As in other countries, the four-day work week is nothing new in France and has arisen in political conversations about work, unemployment, increased automation and quality of life. As reported by Le local, the far-left political party La France Insoumise and the Greens have both supported the idea in the past.
On Monday, the left-wing newspaper Liberation put the idea in the spotlight by giving it its editorial support: “so far, the idea of a four-day week has circulated without being taken very seriously. But the pandemic, by rethinking the way we work, could well give it a new lease of life … a general shift to a four-day, 32-hour week would create 1.5 to 2 million jobs, which is much more than the number of additional jobs generated by the 35-hour week. So why not seriously consider this possibility?
The unions in France are incredibly powerful and the CGT union supports the idea. His secretary, Sandrine Mourey, was cited in the Le local saying: “for us, it is an opportunity to think differently about the organization of work”, adding that it does not necessarily have to work four days, but could mean five days of shorter work to help families.
France firmly protects its workers and their working lives, but French workers still manage to maintain high levels of productivity compared to other countries, despite lunch breaks and a shorter legal week. Fast business reported that the French typically have 24.8 years to retire, while the average American is 18.1 – indeed, the current retirement age in France is low, at 63.3.
Many companies around the world are now playing with the idea of four-day work weeks, some with the idea of paying employees the same money as for five days. Le New York Times reported that Unilever is currently conducting a one-year trial in New Zealand by paying its 81 employees five days’ wages for a four-day week.
Parkinson’s Law, invented in 1955, says that all tasks expand to fill the time allotted to complete them, pushing people towards the idea that their jobs could be done in less time with the same levels of productivity. The pandemic has taught businesses a lot over the past year that one way to measure employee productivity could be in terms of production rather than time spent. It remains to be seen in France how far this idea will prevail in the next French presidential elections.