With unemployment in France stubbornly high, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has pledged to put more people in work and to relax the rules governing the 35-hour week. He is treading a fine line between employers who argue the shorter working week makes France less competitive and stifles economic growth and the unions, who oppose change.In a speech outlining his political strategy for 2005 Raffarin said: “I want to make it very clear, working longer hours doesn’t lead to unemployment. On the contrary, when we work longer its creates wealth, creates more growth and thus more employment. To finance our country’s social projects we must increase the number of hours we work overall.” Demonstrators took to the streets in France two years ago to protest against modifications to the 35-hour week legislation.
Raffarin is now proposing that employees will be allowed to work 220 hours overtime each year up from 180. In addition businesses will be able to reach separate deals with their workers for even more overtime. He also said he intended to cut France’s unemployment rate by 10% by the end of next year.