35-hour workweek

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The 35-hour working week is a measure adopted first in France, in February 2000, under Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's Plural Left government. It was pushed by Minister of Labour Martine Aubry.

The previous legal duration of the working week was 39 hours, which had been established by François Mitterrand, also a member of the Socialist Party. The 35-hour working week was in the Socialist Party's 1981 electoral program, titled 110 Propositions for France.

The 35 hours was the legal standard limit, after which further working time was to be considered overtime.


The main stated objectives of the law were twofold:

  • To reduce unemployment and yield a better division of labor, in a context where some people work long hours while some others are unemployed. A 10.2% decrease in the hours extracted from each worker would, theoretically, require firms to hire correspondingly more workers, a remedy for unemployment.[citation needed]
  • To take advantage of improvements in productivity of modern society to give workers some more personal time to enhance quality of life.[citation needed]

Another reason was that the Jospin government took advantage of the changes introduced with the 35-hour working week to relax other workforce legislation.

(See working time for further discussion of the health and leisure-related reasons for limited work weeks.)


The 35-hour working week is controversial in France. Generally speaking, left wing parties and trade unions support it, while conservative parties and the MEDEF employers' union oppose it. Critics of the 35-hour working week have argued that it has failed to serve its purpose because an increase in recruitment has not occurred[citation needed].

In their view, the reluctance of firms to take on new workers has instead simply increased per-hour production quotas[citation needed]. According to right-wing parties and economic commentators, the main reason why French firms avoid hiring new workers is that French employment regulations around labour flexibility make it difficult to lay off workers during a poor economic period[citation needed].

Amendments to the law[edit]

The Raffarin government, some members of which were vocal critics of the law, gradually pushed for further relaxation of the legal working time requirements. On 22 December 2004, the French Parliament extended the maximum number of overtime hours per year from 180 to 220; on 31 March 2005, another law extended the possibilities of overtime hours.

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