France has an increasingly divided society according to Francois Hollande.
It is partly why the president has been attending a so-called “social democratic forum for jobs”; a two-day conference which gathers trade unions, bosses and local authorities around large tables for talks on introducing reforms.
“You are the actors, the living force of our country. Nothing could be done without you but at the same time, the state will always respect its responsibilities
to prepare our country’s future,” said Hollande in a speech to delegates.
But many of those attending have taken umbrage with the president’s sentiments. Some of France’s biggest unions walked out of the conference over differences over Hollande’s highly publicised “responsibility pact” and the need for reforms.
The objective is clear – reduce charges and lower corporate taxes in order to boost employment and growth.
Critics of the plan, however, say reforms in France are always introduced in the most painful way or are abandoned in the face of public protests or opposition from the country’s powerful unions.
Other critics say it contributes to an image of France being a poor place to work but a great place to live.
With 35 working hours a week, France stands alone in Europe compared to others who have to spend more time at their jobs. Germany has 37, Britain 37.5 and Portugal with 38.3 has the longest working week.
And the French are among the most well rewarded in Europe for time off. They enjoy 36 days of annual paid leave while Germany only has 29. The Dutch have the least with 28.
The French are also among the front-runners when it comes to labour costs. On average an employee cost a firm around 35 euros per hour. It Is less than Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and Luxembourg but much more than neighbouring Germany. Bulgaria has the lowest labour costs.
Corporation taxes and social contributions for companies are also among the highest, accounting for some 35-billion euros in state coffers, well above the European average.
Critics conclude by saying that reforms might be needed to preserve France’s way of living but they also point out that French labour productivity is still the highest in Europe; and that around third of Europe’s top 100 companies are French.