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French employment report hints at change to 35 hour working week

The French government has given a signal that the country's 35-hour working week may soon be removed from the statute books, an expert has said.29 Jan 2016

A government report published last week on the 'Definition of the essential principles of labour rights' made no mention of France's much-debated 35 hour working week, said employment law expert Coline Bied-Charreton of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

On receiving the report. prime minister Manuel Valls said that "exceptions" to the 35-hour rule should not be seen as "transgressions", the Independent reported.

The omission, plus Vall's statement, suggest that this may be "the beginning of the end" for the 35-hour week, Bied-Charreton said.

"At first sight the report, which is very short at only 12 pages, does not seem to bring any significant change. In fact its purpose is to define 'core principles', which are not very numerous. This implies that, as long as this limited number of core principles is not violated, the legislator may bring any changes to the existing laws. From that point of view, it constitutes an important step and a change of mind," she said.

"The authors of the report not only did not refer to the 35-hour week, but they also left considerable margin of action to companies. If, according to the report, the weekly working duration is supposed to be determined by the law, a collective agreement entered into at the company level may determine a working time different from the legal one," Bied-Charreton said.

Valls announced reforms to the country's labour laws in November.

The French government expects reform of the labour code to take several years, but will present proposed changes to laws on working hours by the first quarter of 2016, it said (link in French).

The government said in November that it would not change the 35 hour working week. However, questions of working hours, rest times, holiday and overtime pay should be open to change through collective agreements, it said.

The 35-hour week was introduced in the 1990s, in an attempt to boost employment.

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