Bill on second law on 35-hour week passed in cabinet

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in late July 1999, the French cabinet approved the second bill on the 35-hour week, which follows up the first law on the subject adopted in June 1998. The new bill establishes a two-year "adjustment period", in particular for the question of overtime payments.

On 28 July 1999, the cabinet approved the second bill on the 35-hour working week, which addresses those matters left to be decided by the first 35-hour week law adopted by parliament on 13 June 1998 (FR9806113F). The bill endorses the timetable for the introduction of the 35-hour working week set out in the original law: the statutory working week will be reduced from 39 to 35 hours as of 1 January 2000 for those companies with more than 20 employees, and as of 1 January 2002 for the rest. The other key points are that:

  • in the first year only, the first four hours of overtime a week (ie the 36th to 39th hour) will be paid at a premium rate of only 10%, as opposed to the current 25%. The statutory annual quota of overtime is still 130 hours, but only weekly hours after the 37th will be counted towards it in the first year of the adjustment period, and after the 36th hour during the second year. Employees in companies that have switched to the 35-hour working week will be paid at the 10% premium rate for the 36th to 39th hour per week, while for employees in other companies this premium will be paid into a "job creation fund". (from the second adjustment year, 15% of the 25% premium will go to these employees);
  • the rate of the SMIC national minimum wage has not been changed, but those people earning the SMIC who work in companies that have moved to the 35-hour working week will be paid a top-up sum to maintain their salary at its current monthly level;
  • managerial and professional staff (cadres) will be divided into three subcategories: "senior managerial and professional staff", exempt from the new regulations; "team-based managerial and professional staff"; and "other managerial and professional staff" (FR9909105F) The latter can be paid for their working hours on a lump-sum basis, if this is provided for in a collective agreement; and
  • the reduction of weekly working hours to 35 will occasion a decrease in employers' social security contributions, but only in respect of the employees concerned. In firms with a staff of over 50, this subsidy is conditional on a company agreement being reached. If a minority union signs this agreement, other unions have the right to ask for the staff to be consulted on it

Since the initial announcement of the bill's salient points by Minister for Employment and Solidarity, Martine Aubry, in June 1999 (FR9906190F), it has undergone a few alterations after consultation with the social partners. These changes have been made especially in response to the criticisms voiced by trade unions. The CFDT union confederation warmly welcomed the new bill, and the only minus point it sees is the change in the rules on the representativeness of trade unions (FR9909104F), defended by CGT. The other unions however, have not abandoned their principal criticisms. CGT is still hostile to the introduction of an adjustment period. Both CGT and CGT-FO fear adverse effects on job creation, wages and working conditions, with increased flexibility in working patterns. The MEDEF employers' association feels that the government did not take any notice of its criticisms, and has neglected the results of a survey of 104 sector-level agreements collected by MEDEF. Its president, Ernest-Antoine Seillière, thinks that the bill marks a "sad day for the French business community".

Now the bill must be subjected to the scrutiny of the National Assembly, a process planned to begin on 9 October. After the President of the Republic's extremely reserved stance, parties on the right have made sharp criticisms of the government's bill. The legislation will also have to suffer criticism from with the governing coalition - not only from the Communists and Greens but also from within the Socialist party itself.

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