“This is already possible for companies in difficulty. Why not extend it
to all companies, provided there is a broad agreement with the employees?”
Introduced under the previous Socialist administration of former prime
minister Lionel Jospin, the 35-hour law was supposed to encourage companies
to take on more staff by limiting the amount of time staff are allowed to
But its many critics insist it has crushed the spirit of Gallic enterprise,
made already rigid labour codes even more inflexible and dragged French
unemployment to record levels.
Mr Macron, whose appointment came amid
a purge of Leftist cabinet members, said deregulating work hours
would allow France
to “find a way out of the trap that sees the accumulation of workers’
rights become an obstacle for those who are jobless”.
“The way to return to growth in France, is to liberate the energy needed
to create work,” he added.
But he conceded that this idea was “difficult to explain … especially
when one is on the Left”.
French authorities were quick to downplay the interview, insisting it was
conducted “well before his appointment as economy minister”.
The office of Manuel Valls, the prime minister, said the government “will
respect” the 35-hour law.
“The organisation of working time can already be altered within
companies via collective agreements,” Mr Valls’ office said.
But the comments drew instant fire from French unions.
Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT union, said it was “not a good idea”
while the UNSA union dismissed the proposal as “out of the question”.
Francois Fillon, Nicolas Sarkozy’s former prime minister from his opposition
centre-right UMP, saying he would vote “without hesitation” for a
change in the 35-hour week.
Business leaders were delighted. Pierre Gattaz, president of the Medef
employers’ association, said: “If a business needs to work 40 hours, it
has to do it.”
Urging a move to “simplify” France’s labour laws, he said that “if
we don’t start to rediscuss several things, we risk pushing up unemployment
The controversy came the day after new figures showed French unemployment
hitting a new record high of 3.42 million last month, underscoring the task
facing Mr Macron.
The French Socialist Party’s Left flank is still reeling from a speech on
Wednesday in which the Blairite Mr Valls told French bosses: “Your
country needs you. I love business.” He received an unprecedented
Mr Hollande’s brusque move to the Right has put him at risk of a revolt in
parliament that could lead to a Socialist defeat, and potentially the
dissolution of the National Assembly.