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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La pire des lois au coeur de l’été

by Jean-Paul Piérot

The most despicable law passed in the middle of summer

Translated Saturday 26 July 2008, by Susannah Readett-Bayley

Working hours. The text voted in by the Right in the French Parliament represents an unprecedented regression in social policy. François Fillon acknowledges that it is an ‘unraveling’ of the 35 hour week.

“Unraveling of the 35 hour week” — François Fillon repeated this phrase to the members of Parliament he met at Matignon yesterday. It’s a different story altogether from Xavier Bertand’s denial just a few weeks ago that the 35 hour week would be phased out, since the fact of the phase-out was declared by his alter ego at the UMP, Patrick Devedjian. It’s a different story, too, from Nicolas Sarkozy’s assurances that the 35 hour week would remain the legal norm. Tuesday’s vote at the National Assembly has confirmed that this was nothing but a front to prepare the ground for an act that represents the most significant regression in social policy since the liberation of France.

Working hours have structured social history.

Working hours have been at the heart of the conflict between employees and employers since the beginning of the syndical movement. Their gradual reduction is an indicator of civil society’s progress. Despite all the surveys showing that French employees value their RTT, François Fillon believes a “quiet revolution has begun” and that France “accepts the reform”.

Is it possible that this threat to the right to work, this French “opt out” will go undisputed in a working world that has demonstrated on more than one occasion its capacity to fight back and to force decisions to be overturned?

The future may well see the right changing its tune. Bernard Accoyer’s ultraliberal euphoria in his estimation yesterday that the 235 day ceiling for management employees was too low and 250 should be considered, may well be dampened. The UGICT CGT today launched a petition against the government’s scandalous behavior. The next few months could see turbulent times. It’s easy to vote in a despicable law in the heart of the summer if you hold a majority. But it’s another thing altogether to try to implement this law once employees have gauged the concrete implications of such a law on their working conditions, their family life, and their health. It wouldn’t be the first time that a Parliamentary vote was undermined by social reality….

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