A student raises her fist during a rally in Paris on Wednesday.

A student raises her fist during a rally in Paris on Wednesday.

French protest against bill tampering with 35-hour work week

PARIS — Tens of thousands of people protested across France on Wednesday against President Francois Hollande’s determination to achieve what his conservative predecessor didn’t even dare to try — tamper with the 35-hour workweek.

Workers, unemployed and youths joined forces on Wednesday, answering calls from student organizations and unions in more than 200 cities across France to try to kill the bill, which has even divided Hollande’s ruling Socialist party.

Paris police said between 27,000 and 29,000 protesters took to the streets in the French capital. Various unions quoted by local media put the estimate much higher, between 80,000 and 100,000 on the chilly, rainy day.

The contested labor reform would amend France’s 35-hour workweek, approved in 2000 by the Socialists and now a cornerstone of the left. The current Socialist government wants adjustments to reduce France’s 10-percent unemployment rate as the shortened workweek was meant to do.

The proposal technically maintains the 35-hour workweek, but allows companies to organize alternative working times without following industry-wide deals, up to a 48-hour workweek and 12 hours per day. In “exceptional circumstances,” employees could work up to 60 hours a week.

To allow companies to deal with business booms, one measure would allow employees to work more than 35 hours without being paid overtime. In exchange, they would have more days off later on. Other measures would relax rules on layoffs and working from home and at night.

The proposals have turned all major employee unions and youth organizations against the government. With next year’s presidential election looming and Hollande’s popularity having reached its nadir, legislation to make it easier for companies to end employment deals is fueling discontent in a country badly hit by the economic downturn.

Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, had vowed to end France’s 35-hour week, but he never scrapped the policy during his five-year tenure.

“This law is even more shocking that it has been drafted by Socialists,” a telecom company employee who asked to be identified only as Manuel, saying he didn’t want to give his full name for fear of reprisals from his bosses.

“This law is just aiming at making layoffs easier for companies,” he told The Associated Press at a big gathering on Paris’ Place de la Republique.

Protesters at the Place de la Republique united around slogans such as “Loi El Khomri, Vie pourrie,” which translates as “El Khomri Law, Rotten Life.” The planned reform is referred as the El Khomri law, after Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri.

“I think it’s crucial to move forward, especially on the working hours issue,” El Khomri said. “Of course we listen to the people. Of course we listen to the unions.”

Several high schools across France were blocked off by students who set up barricades with garbage cans.

Outside the Helene Boucher high school, students cheered any mention of how the movement would prevent Hollande and the government from passing the bill.

Maryanne Gicquel, a spokeswoman for the FIDL student union, described young people’s journey toward a stable job as “a succession of internships and poorly-paid jobs.”

“Now we’re being told that it will be easier for companies to lay off workers,” she said.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ government insisted that the bill won’t be withdrawn but discussions continue with union representatives. The bill, initially set to be discussed at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, has been delayed by two weeks amid growing opposition.

Hollande reiterated his support for the bill after meeting with his ministers at the Elysee Palace on Wednesday.

Martine Aubry — the former First Secretary of the Socialist Party and architect of the 35-hour week — described it as “the preparation of a long-lasting weakening of France, and of course, the left.”

Many protesters agreed with her.

“This whole thing has one goal: destroying our labor code, while we should all think about new ways of reducing the average working hours,” said Sebastien Marchal, a 36-year-old graphic designer.


Alex Turnbull and Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 15

Here’s what to expect this week.

Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people gather in Juneau for the opening of Celebration on June 5. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Federal judge considers lawsuit that could decide Alaska tribes’ ability to put land into trust

Arguments took place in early May, and Judge Sharon Gleason has taken the case under advisement.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, June 18, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Monday, June 17, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Workers stand next to the Father Brown’s Cross after they reinstalled it at an overlook site on Mount Roberts on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Hugo Miramontes)
Father Brown’s Cross is resurrected on Mount Roberts after winter collapse

Five workers put landmark back into place; possibility of new cross next year being discussed.

KINY’s “prize patrol” vehicle is parked outside the Local First Media Group Inc.’s building on Wednesday morning. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Juneau radio station KINY is using AI to generate news stories — how well does it get the scoop?

As trust and economics of news industry continue long decline, use and concerns of AI are growing.

An empty classroom at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on July 20, 2022. (Lisa Phu/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska faces consequences as federal education funding equity dispute continues

State officials offered feds a $300,000 compromise instead of $17 million adjustment.

Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, speaks on the Senate floor on March 6. Gray-Jackson was the sponsor of a bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
On Juneteenth, Gov. Dunleavy weighs adding a new legal holiday for Alaska

If the governor signs recently passed bill, Juneteenth would be observed as a state holiday in 2025.

Most Read