New French President Plans to Change Work Week
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Anita Elash reports from Paris.
ANITA ELASH: Changes to the 35 hour workweek were a key part of Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign platform.
NICOLAS SARKOZY: (French spoken)
ELASH: In speech after speech, he talked about the need to put France back to work and said he would allow the French to earn more money if they work longer hours.
SARKOZY: (French spoken)
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
ELASH: Oliver Griffith is with the American Chamber of Commerce in France.
OLIVER GRIFFITH: The 35 hour workweek is a competitive disadvantage, just like they're in a competitive disadvantage with low-wage countries or low-tax countries like Ireland or the Baltic states. So they have to - France has to find its competitive edge where it can, and having the 35 hour workweek does not help.
ELASH: But many economists aren't sure that will change much. The Organization for Economic Development says the 35 hour week has had a neutral effect on business. Paul Swane(ph) of the OECD says if Sarkozy wants to rejuvenate the French economy, he should think about cutting red tape rather than the 35 hour week.
PAUL SWANE: It is true that France is unique in doing this and I think the business community in France feels like the government makes it harder for them than their colleagues in other countries because they have a lot of regulations, high taxes and so on. And to some extent I think the 35 hour week is the symbol for them of this overregulation by the public sector and maybe more so than that than the problem in and of itself.
ELASH: Swain says overall the 35-hour week doesn't seem to have affected profits. It didn't solve the unemployment problem, but it hasn't made things worse either. French workers are among the most productive in the world, equal to or better than Americans per hour worked. And while wages have increased more slowly in France than in other European countries, polls show most French workers are willing to accept a bit less money in exchange for more time off.
SHIPATO FRANCOIS: (French spoken)
ELASH: Shipato Francois is one of them. She's a research technician in Paris suburb of Antoine(ph).
FRANCOIS: (French spoken)
ELASH: For NPR News, I'm Anita Elash in Paris.
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