Thursday, November 27, 2014

35 Hours In Name Only

Those French. So important, the short work week so that all les citoyens can sit in les cafes and drink absinthe. One must relax, the French believe, and so they wrote it into their laws. Thou shalt not work more than thirty-five hours per week.

Et voila.

The French are working more than that because you can't make enough money to get by if you only pull down thirty-some hours. Mon Dieu! Is it time to rewrite the law so that it matches reality?

Among the socialists who govern France is a firm belief that the workers are exploited by the bosses so the State must step in to protect the workers. It sounds good, but in practice it is impossible. Not working does not boost a nation's economy, especially when the State is generous with the social welfare. The funds have to come from somewhere.

According to the New York Times, there are those in France who simply work two jobs and ignore the law against excessive labor. As these criminals have discovered, you can make more money if you work more hours, and if you make more money, you can buy things that you would like to have. You could save that extra money and buy yourself a house in the south of France, and then rent it out to Irish tourists desperate for a glimpse of the sun, and make even more money.

Poor France must fight its image as a nation of lazy sots, some ministers have said. What multinational wants to locate in Lyons if the CEO has no confidence in his work force? A day's work for two day's wages isn't exactly the stuff of capitalism. To make matters worse, many multinationals are owned and operated by Americans, who are known to not take any vacation at all because of their obsession with work. As if the Germans aren't bad enough.

Unemployment is high and the French economy is stagnant. but there are too many in government who refuse to admit that their economic model is a failure. They take great pride in the 35-hour work week, even if the short hours exist in name only. The head of France's Socialist Party, Bruno Le Roux, is quite vehement when he states that the 35-hour work week is not going to be changed, not ever.

Perhaps a small step could be taken, suggests Economic Minister Emmanuel Macron. How about if the workers themselves decide if they want to work 35 hours per week, or more. A drastic step, to be sure, to trust the people to decide how best to manage their time.

Employers are working around the law by hiring people as part-time employees, keeping the hours under the limit for overtime pay so that the business is not hurt by high labor costs. For the workers, it becomes a game of cobbling together two jobs and juggling a time schedule to get enough hours to put food on the table.

The law about 35 hours exists on the books, but in practice, it's just a jumble of nonsense words. Real life does not match the intent. For those in power, it's all about the intent. But it's also about the populace agitating for a better economy. Something has to be changed, but what, exactly? And by how much?

Instead of more leisure, the French worker gets less. The road to hell, good intentions, and all that......

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