Managerial staff demonstrate in favour of the 35-hour week

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On 12 October 1999, while the debate on France's second law on the 35-hour week was taking place in the National Assembly, three trade unions - CGT, CFE-CGC and CFTC - organised a demonstration of managerial and professional staff in Paris. The aim was to obtain an amendment to the bill's provisions on managerial and professional staff and achieve "a genuine reduction of working time" for these categories of worker.

The CGT, CFE-CGC and CFTC trade union confederations called a demonstration of managerial and professional staff (cadres) in Paris on 12 October 1999, to coincide with the debate on the second law on the 35-hour week in the National Assembly (FR9910197N). This unprecedented gathering testified to the anxiety of a large number of managerial and professional staff over one of the measures contained in the new bill, which they consider a "a real step backwards in industrial relations". On the basis of a collective agreement, Article 5 of the bill provides for the option of implementing working time arrangements for managerial and professional staff based on days (up to a maximum of 217 days per year) rather than hours worked. This involves the elimination of any reference to, or upper limits placed on, the maximum statutory number of hours worked (currently 10 hours per day, 44 hours per week and 1,730 hours per year). This could lead to 13-hour working days, 78-hour working weeks, and up to 2,800 hours worked annually (FR9909105F).

The fears voiced by the demonstrators are of the legalisation of "hidden work hours", with an increase in unpaid overtime. Some fear a return to "payment by tasks", while others condemn the exacerbation of the inequalities between the career prospects for men and women that may flow from it. The possibility of this measure being extended to hundreds of thousands of technical staff has also been mentioned. While it did not take part in the demonstration, the Confederal Union of Managerial, Professional Engineering Staff (Union confédérale des cadres et ingénieurs, UCI) affiliated to the CGT-FO confederation voiced a similar perspective, through its slogan "Yes to fewer working days, no to endless working days". The CFDT's Confederal Union of Managerial and Professional Staff (Union confédérale des cadres, UCC) is the only union to have expressed reservations over the demonstration's objective.

After the demonstration, a delegation from the three unions involved was met by the National Assembly's committee on industrial relations. The union delegation received an assurance from Jean Le Garrec, the committee's president, that the details of the bill were still being refined in an attempt to arrive at a more appropriate response to the concerns expressed by the unions. During the parliamentary debate on Article 5, on 14 October, a Socialist Party deputy and member of the committee on industrial relations acknowledged the fears articulated by the three unions and stated that an amendment could be lodged during the bill's second reading, in order to reintroduce a maximum working time expressed in hours for those managerial and professional staff whose timetable is due to be set in days rather than hours. Article 5 of the bill passed through the first reading without fundamental amendment, and references to maximum limits expressed in hours were not reintroduced.

CFE-CGC warned that another, larger and more vocal demonstration would be held if the bill was not amended. CGT, CFE-CGC, CFDT, CFTC and CGT-FO are in contact with each other to plan what action might be taken next, in the third week in November, before the bill's second reading.

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