Sunday, 21 April 2013

The 35 work-week in France

France has a lot of great stereotypes, some positive and some not. One of my favourites is that of the French worker. The Frenchman has his famous 35 hour week, inclusive of coffee breaks and unlimited sick days. Any questioning of this from his superiors will immediately result in a call to the trade union, causing an industry-wide strike; nation-wide protests are the result, and workers can stay at home drinking wine and discussing philosophy until the government increases wages and improves conditions. The 35 hour week survives, and this very old tradition, which probably dates back to the French revolution, continues. This is a fantastic stereotype, and is something which I've always perpetuated (and still do). There is only one problem; it's not actually true.

As a result of the current economic situation in Europe, this generation of young French people is being called generation precaire, meaning 'the precarious generation', given that it's so difficult to find work. Even many of those who are graduating with Masters degrees from top universities are going from one poorly paid 'internship' to another, and not 1-day-per-week-whilst-at-uni-internships like in Australia, 12 hours a day internships, getting paid around $120 per week. Those who have found real work are certainly not working 35 hours a week, and people seem to be working far longer hours than anyone I know in Australia. A friend, for example, doing an internship in a law firm, sees it as a victory if he leaves at 10pm each night; "at least they pay for my dinners", is his justification. Once they get a proper job, they'll do their best to keep it; French young people (seem to) have no concept of 'pissing off overseas' like Australians do, unless for study or internships.

So how lazy and inefficient are French people?
Many argue that this 'lazy' culture is responsible for all of France's current problems, yet, according to official statistics, French workers are more productive (they can produce a good faster and cheaper) than most other European countries, including the Germans, and also, the very hard working Americans, as well as Australian workers. I know most of my friends reading this (who care about these issues) will disagree with this statistic, as this hilarious stereotype is so well ingrained. But who knows, maybe the French are right on this one.