Friday, October 20, 2006

Pas libérez pour choisir

Remember when Paul Krugman was extolling French family values of no work, all play:

....the main story is that full-time French workers work shorter weeks and take more vacations than full-time American workers.

The point is that to the extent that the French have less income than we do, it's mainly a matter of choice.

Except when they choose to work more, that is:

PARIS, Oct 19, 2006 (AFP) - A French court ruling that the 35-hour working week must apply in hotels, bars and restaurants triggered uproar in the hospitality industry Thursday, amid dire warnings that it will impoverish staff and jeopardise many struggling businesses.

....For many cafe-owners and restaurateurs, the ruling was a third blow — coming on top of President Jacques Chirac's failure to win from the European Union a cut to 5.5 percent of valued added tax, as well as an upcoming ban on smoking in public places.

"Have they got it in for us, or what? We feel like we're the outcasts of the state. There are going to be heavy, heavy repercussions — insurmountable ones," said Jean Pournin who employs four people at the Restaurant d'Angleterre in the Mediterranean port of Nice.

Under the 2004 decree hotels, restaurant and bars enjoyed a dispensation from the 35-hour week on the grounds that the industry needs a flexible labour structure. Staff were not paid at overtime rates for hours after the 35th, but instead had an extra week of holiday that could be exchanged for more pay.

But responding to an appeal from the CFDT union, the state council said the arrangement is illegal because there is no reason in law to regard the catering trade as an exception.

It means that employers will be obliged to pay overtime rates for supplementary hours worked — at an increase of 25 percent for establishments with more than 20 staff and 10 percent for the rest. On the other hand the extra week of holiday disappears.

In addition, as the ruling is retrospective staff could be entitled to nearly two years of back payments.

...."This is a unique situation because for the first time ever a union has actually acted to bring down the buying power of its members, especially those in small establishments who will see their pay cheques get smaller," said Andre Daguin, who heads the Union of Hospitality Trades (UMIH).

....However supporters said that if employers "play the game" and strictly apply the 35 hour week, then new jobs will be created.

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