Managerial and professional staff and the 35-hour week

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France's second bill on the 35-hour week, under parliamentary discussion in autumn 1999, will exclude many managerial and professional staff from the regulations on the length of working time applicable to all employees. Their maximum working time will be expressed as 217 days per year, with few restrictions related to the number of hours worked. These measures have provoked heated responses from the trade unions, which suggests that a lively debate will ensue over this issue in parliament.

In July 1999, the French government published its proposals for a second law on the 35-hour working week (FR9906190F). The first "Aubry law", adopted in June 1998 (FR9806113F) provides for the introduction of a statutory 35-hour week from January 2000 (2002 for smaller companies) and encourages the social partners to negotiate on this issue at company and sector level before late 1999. The second "Aubry law" will then lay down more detailed legal provisions on the new working time regime. The draft bill on the second law divides managerial and professional staff (cadres) into three categories: "managerial and professional staff working to the company timetable", "top managerial and professional staff" and "other managerial and professional staff". Employers can exclude the last two categories from the regulations on the length of working time applicable to all employees, in particular the regulations concerning the maximum number of hours to be worked in a day, week and year, and the obligation to calculate individual timetables. The calculation of the working time of "other managerial and professional staff", whose "hourly timetable cannot be set in advance", is expressed in days, with a maximum of 217 working days per year. The only restriction on hours worked is the compulsory 11-hour daily rest period between the end of one working day and the beginning of the next.

A major change in the attitude of managerial staff

The bill was followed in early September 1999 by three studies, published in quick succession, which confirm that these categories of staff work far longer hours than others, and that they themselves feel that their working time is "excessive":

  • a study by the INSEE national statistical institute, published in August, shows that managerial and professional staff worked an average of almost 46 hours per week in 1995 - five hours more than other employees. Half of those in the private sector worked more than 10 hours per day;
  • a "Liaisons Sociales-Manpower" poll revealed that 30% of managerial and professional staff think that "their hours have grown longer over the last few years" and 73% think that "they should have a 35-hour week just like any other employee"; and
  • the annual survey carried out by the Agency for the Employment of Managerial and Professional Staff (Agence pour l'emploi des cadres, APEC) showed that 56% of managerial and professional staff feel that their workload is "excessive".

The bargaining on introducing the 35-hour week in the major industries -such as metalworking (FR9808129F), construction, large-scale distribution, "SYNTEC" (information technology, consultancy work and engineering - FR9904178N) or banking (FR9907102N) - has not satisfied the expectations of managerial and professional staff. The negotiations have basically meant the introduction of "flat-rate" working time packages for managerial and professional staff with working time calculated "without reference to hours", or calculated "in days". In the large companies such as Renault (FR9904175N), Carrefour, and Air France (FR9901151F), these flat-rate deals are expressed "in days". Only small and medium-sized companies have applied such packages to top managerial staff alone.

Heated union response

On 12 April 1999, the organisations for managerial and professional staff affiliated to the four general trade union confederations (FR9904176N) - though not CFE-CGC, the confederation which specifically represents such staff - put their weight behind the idea that the bill on the second 35-hour week law should reintroduce "limits on working time expressed in hours". Since the draft bill was published, social partner organisations have responded in a number of ways:

  • Jean-Luc Cazette of CFE-CGC has stated that "the bill is a swindle because managerial staff are the biggest losers in this 'battle'. The 10 extra days off are granted magnanimously but, at the same time, the rules for managerial and professional staff do not comply with the Labour Code, as far as the length of the working day is concerned. CFE-CGC, which is arguing for a timetable of around 200/205 days per year, hopes that the debate in parliament will enable more progress to be made";
  • CFDT has welcomed the bill, and hopes that the thinking behind it will be endorsed by parliament. However, it has asked for "improvements to be made, particularly on the reduction of working time for managerial and professional staff";
  • UGICT-CGT, CGT's managerial and professional staff section, feels that "this bill, in its current state, is a real step backwards for managerial and professional staff. It is an opportunity for companies to demand 13-hour days, 60-hour weeks and more, and up to 2,820 hours of work per year instead of the current maximum of 1,930". UGICT-CGT is asking for limits on working time, expressed in hours, to be kept for the categories of staff it covers - 1,600 hours, and a maximum of 200 days per year;
  • Marc Blondel of CGT-FO asked for "managerial and professional staff to have the same statutory working hours applied to them as apply to other employees: 35 hours, starting next year. Beyond that level, they should be paid for overtime". CGT-FO is also demanding a four-day week;
  • Alain Deleu of CFTC has stated that "for managerial and professional staff, we are sorry to see that calculation in terms of days is the only option stressed. If that is the case, then the maximum number should not stay at 217. It should be reduced to around 205 days. But the 35-hour week can also be applied to managerial and professional staff"; and
  • the MEDEF employers' confederation, through the president of the UIMM metalworking employers' federation, stated that: "the possibility of calculating the work of managerial and professional staff in days is actually a good thing, but the conditions surrounding this option are highly restrictive. It will not be possible, for example, for many technicians, who have managerial responsibilities in small and medium-sized businesses".

In response to this feedback, Martine Aubry, the Minister of Employment, has implied that she might make a gesture regarding the 217-day working year. Nevertheless she remained guarded on the reintroduction of limits to working time expressed in hours. Gaëtan Gorce, rapporteur on the bill for the National Assembly's social affairs committee, emphasised that: "We must take account of the real situation of managerial and professional staff. Calculating time worked in days seems to be the best way to move towards an actual reduction of their working time. I wonder, personally, whether ways of calculating working time on an hourly basis could not be reintroduced to ensure that the right of managerial and professional staff to rest periods is complied with in practice".

Commentary

The second bill on the 35-hour week, in its current state, seems at odds with the attitude towards working time becoming more prevalent among managerial and professional staff. All the studies published at the end of the summer show that the aspiration of these employees is to have their working time and workloads reduced in the same way as for other categories of worker. The annualisation of working time and the extra days off in order to reduce it provided for in the current law (1,600 hours and 23 extra days' holiday), can fit in perfectly with a maximum number of annual working days. Being unable to "predetermine one's working time" does not mean that it cannot be measured, as several tools for doing so already exist. It will be parliament's job to take responsibility for this and decide, in the final analysis, whether managerial and professional staff, both men and women, really are employees like any others. (Fatima Ayachi, IRES)

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