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Government Aid for Employers and Training for Salaried Workers: Growing Pains for the 35-hour Work Week in France


 The 35-hour work week will be officially in rigour as of January 1st 2002.  Companies operating in France are faced with difficulties regarding aid and training applications vis-à-vis the law.  Some of these same companies are also experiencing difficulties implementing legislation-based negotiation methods.  These methods are to be applied to salaried workers, many of whom are trade union members.


 In its origins, the 35-hour work week was introduced as a means to combat rises in unemployment and create jobs.  Shorter hours for salaried employees are meant to provide more jobs while sustaining levels of productivity.  The current mayor of Lille, and once Labour Minister for the French government, Martine Aubry, lobbied incessantly to promote the 35-hour work week.  The shorter work week (the work week was previously shortened under President François Mitterand to 39 hours)  proposed by the leftist-leaning government in June 1997 has triggered vivacious debate on all sides of the political spectrum.

 The proposal for the 35-hour work week was voted into law June 13th 1998.  Repercussions were felt throughout the French political establishment.  The law remains highly controversial, both in France and abroad.  One of the most vigorous opponents is the MEDEF (Movement des Entreprises de France) whose leader, Ernest-Antoine Sellière, advocates less stringent legal frameworks for business.

 Government aid for companies

 Aid subsidies are available for qualified companies(1) to be used to cover expenses in implementing the new 35-hour scheme.  However, the negotiation mechanisms set in place represent a double-edged sword for employers.

 Companies which effectively negotiate an agreement with trade unions and follow judicial procedure(2) can qualify for government aid in the form off subsidies and tax breaks.  Companies which do not receive high levels of co-operation from unions can be disqualified from receiving funds(3).


 Article 11(4) of French labour law states that part of the time gained for employers from shortening work hours must be used for training purposes for workers.  Training should be for professional or personal development of the employee according to the law.

 Only the final text (out of a total of 17) in Article 11 concerns consent from the employee.  Can the salaried worker refuse training that takes place outside of the 35 hour work week?  The answer to the question has sparked debate from trade unions in order to define “training” under new legislation linked to the shorter work week.


The 35-hour work week was introduced as a means for sustaining employment and creating jobs in France.  The laws governing the 35-hour work week continue to evoke conflicting viewpoints concerning government aid for employers and training.

 Greater harmonization is required between aid mechanisms’ applicability and trade union policy.  Open dialog is essential along with less government interference and more flexibility in employer/union relations.

 Steps must also be taken at the legislative level in order to provide clear definitions for training and its implications for employers and workers.  The establishment of accepted norms and best practices will steer policies once the final stages of the 35-hour work week are put into place.

 (1)  Companies with over 20 salaried workers require employees to take part in the 35-hour work week as of 1st January 2001.  As of 1st January 2002 the 35-hour work week is mandatory for all companies operating in France.

(2)  Text in French labour law concerning “negotiation development”(3) whereby companies must receive majority votes in favour of 35-hour work week union conventions.  Member of personnel are consulted by direct vote if no majority vote is possible.

 (3)  Lemaître, Frédéric, “les Ambiguïtés demeurent sur les 35 heures, Le Monde (Edition électronique), July 5th 1999, Paris.

 (4) Projet de loi relatif à la rédaction négociée du temps de travail.

By: Robert Lewis

Robert Lewis