THE LABOUR CODE (CODE DU TRAVAIL) IN France regulates terms and conditions of work on a national and industry-wide basis. Although some of its 10,000 articles have been amended before its basic tenets, such as the 35-hour week, have been regarded as untouchable. Now currently unpopular President Francois Hollande and his Socialist Party Prime Minister Manuel Valls have decided to make more substantial changes. The 35-hour week would remain as the foundation, but the proposal would allow companies to organise alternative working times
Prime Minister Valls & President Hollande
without industry-wide deals. Workers would also be able to put in a 48-hour week or 12-hour shifts. The plans have sparked massive protests with seven trade unions and youth groups demanding their total withdrawal and a new street movement known as ‘Nuit Debout’ filling town squares across France with students and young people in a way reminiscent of Los Indignados in Spain. Altogether trade unions said that half a million people were on the streets while a petition against the reforms gathered a million signatures, a French record. There is also opposition from within the Socialist party: Martine Aubry, the author of the 35-hour week (see issue 8) has resigned all her party positions, condemning the law as a betrayal of the French ‘social contract’. M. Valls however believes that the measures are ‘intelligent, audacious and necessary’ as a way of reducing unemployment which he blames on the ‘barriers to the labour market’ created by existing laws. Already though the proposals have been watered down by scrapping a cap on unfair dismissal payments and by withdrawing the right of small companies to introduce flexible working without negotiation. This backtracking has angered the business lobby. In the end Hollande and his ministers had to push the new law through parliament without a vote, using emergency powers, despite 58% of those polled recently being against it.