The 35-Hour Week and Football Sirens

In France, as in many other western European, “developed”, countries unemployment is pretty high and employee benefits are pretty vast, at least in big groups and corporations. Yet, people who work there seem to never think that their work benefits are good enough.

They (or we, as I am included) have five weeks of paid holidays, plus another week or so for seniority, plus a couple of weeks additional days off because once upon a time someone thought a 35 hour week would generate more jobs, as the workload would be spread out on more people. It didn’t though. At least, not in office jobs. (The 35 hour work week is not for everyone, it depends on the collective agreement between the unions and the employer.) Since you are supposed to work only for 35 hours, but office workers often work more, this is compensated by additional days off.

So, here we are with 9 weeks of paid holidays, and when the employer suggests that two of these be placed at a particular time of the year for everyone, to allow for better planning of the overall work, what do people do? Well, much to my surprise when I was new in town, the unions rally people and run around the offices sounding sirens (the ones that are used at football matches and look like hairspray bottles) and claim it is a scandal.

It left me speechless, and still does.

I can understand that for those who do not enjoy the 9 weeks off, but “only” have 5, a few of these are used to make sure people don’t come into a closed office. This may be complicated if for example your spouse has the same issue, during other weeks, and you can’t have holidays together. I give you that. I don’t say people should not have rights as workers. They should. And they DO, in France. It’s just that at the moment, and it’s not really new by the way, France’s economy is in the red, unemployment is super high, and people who HAVE a job, complain that part of their holidays are forcibly positioned.

For a lot of people in France, what I am saying here is scandalous. It is a comment from someone who doesn’t understand, who has a good life and no issues with minding children, or even is a etc, etc. Sure, I give you that. For a lot of people in the rest of Europe, these people come across as unhappy whining French in a country with a sinking economy, which is helping to pull down the overall economy of the EU. For people in countries outside of the EU, it is probably just totally incomprehensible that the fact that a company needs to plan its activity to try to optimise the use of its resources (we are not yet in the debate of closing factories, layoffs, or outsourcing to less expensive countries, that may come in a later post…) is not even being considered, and that it becomes an opportunity to bring out football sirens in the corridors of the office.

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