Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Vive les (Paid) Vacations.

The IHT had an article today on France's 70th anniversary of the first paid vacation - the two week paid vacation or congés payés law was enacted by Léon Blum's Front Populaire government in 1936. As anyone can guess, it was an immediate success.
As can also be expected, the tone of the article quickly gets ironic - the French are known in the U.S. for enjoying too much free time and not working hard enough. This is, as any cliché goes, in sharp contrast with America's obsession for work, based on Protestant work-ethics.
Today's French need no lessons in vacationing; indeed, some think they need instruction in working harder. They produce enough sun creams to glaze every poulet in Bresse and they can buy their picnic thermos from Christian Dior. With longer life spans and the 35- hour workweek, a sociologist named Jean Viard reckons that the French spend less than 10 percent of their lives at work.
Then the article goes on to say that it is now becoming fashionable to be in town in August as proof of one's indispensability.

Two pieces of information are slightly misleading, however:
  • 1) yes, the front-running potential candidate for the French presidential elections of 2007, the Socialist Ségolène Royal, did speak out against the 35-hour workweek (which the Socialists had introduced) but mostly she pointed out that it is an unfair measure as it mostly benefits white collars. She seemed to imply that the 35-hour week should actually be extended to the blue-collar workers in the name of égalité. So it is not like the socialists have necessarily changed their position.
It is true, however, that the measure is controversial, while immensely popular with some people -those who benefit it). Since any extension of the 35 hour week may turn out to be too complicated and controversial, it may not last very long, if the socialists are elected.
  • 2) the second point is about the mess concerning the government's request that the traditional Pentecôte holiday (in June) be used as a working day. The article pointed out that "while most workers in the private sector complied, but the fonctionnaires, "the state's own employees," took the day off and the nation's schools and day care centers were closed."
It must be said, however, that the schools were closed because last year, more than half of the students simply did not show up. A lot of parents did not send their children to school. It must also be added that teachers are required to come to school an extra day (when there are no students) in order to match their working time with everybody else's - even though their showing up will not make a difference.
The article while true for the most part is slightly misleading. As always in France, the situation is more complex than it first appears.


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