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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Passage aux 40 heures : attention à l’intox !

by Lucy Bateman

40-Hour Work Week – Beware of Disinformation!

Translated Sunday 30 December 2007, by Gene Zbikowski

A company-union labor agreement cannot increase the length of the legal work week.

The successful media campaign conducted by the Continental factory in Sarreguemine might make one think that they have returned to the pre-1982 40-hour work week. However this is not the case, for the very good reason that the company has no right to do so. The company has simply forced its workers to accept obligatory overtime hours.

To understand the question, you have to remember what is meant by a 35-hour work week. The “35 hours a week” stipulated by the law are neither a maximum amount of time that can be worked nor an amount of effective work. They are the legal length of the work week, that is to say the threshold beyond which overtime hours must be paid. Beginning with the 36th hour of work, the employer must pay the worker a surplus, which varies from 10% to 25% more, up to the 43rd hour, after which he must pay 50% more. The employer can make his workers work up to an average of 44 hours a week over a period of twelve consecutive weeks, within an absolute limit of 48 hours a week. From the employer’s point of view, working conditions in France remain very flexible.

Continental states that it took its workers’ “expressed desires into account” in paying each overtime hour at a higher rate. This is pure balderdash on the company’s part, since it had no choice: the rules governing overtime are national laws, which means that it is forbidden to propose conditions below the level of protection that they afford to workers. The legal length of the work week is also a national law; and as its name indicates, it is established by the law, and an employer cannot decide to increase it all by himself. The media campaign waged by Continental consequently smacks of an ideological offensive. However the trade unions representing workers at the factory must be attentive to certain issues: Continental is initiating obligatory, scheduled overtime hours, which legally must correspond to a brief increase in business. The trade unions will also have to check that the labor agreement does not reduce some workers’ pay. Finally, they might reflect on the company’s honesty in the negotiations which led them to sign such a labor agreement.

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