Reuters/Eric Gaillard
10 weeks?!?!
FRENCH PRESSED

France’s 10-week holidays and 35-hour work weeks are under attack

By Max Nisen

What is three weeks’ vacation worth to you?

That question is top of mind right now in France, where companies that have been bold enough to deviate from the traditional 35-hour French work week are now trying to scale back the perks given to employees in exchange for the extra hours.

One example: French utility EDF. Its current work contract stipulates that employees putting in a 39.5-hour average work week are entitled to an extra 23 days off on top of the standard 27 vacation days, for a total of 10 weeks paid vacation per year. Now it’s seeking to reduce that to a mere seven weeks.

Predictably there’s a big spread between what the company is offering, and what employees are asking for, in exchange for the extra three weeks of work.

According to the Financial Times (paywall), the nuclear power company is dangling a one-time payment €10,000 ($10,875) to each of its 30,000 employees, or the option of a 4% to 6% raise for executives, in exchange for the contract change. The company’s union, however, thinks the lump sum should be closer to €80,000.

The negotiations at EDF are just the latest in a series of attempts to erode some of the more generous perks French workers enjoy. (Compare EDF’s current 10 weeks of paid vacation, or even the seven weeks it’s asking for, with the average 10 days of vacation for American workers, many of whom don’t even take all of them.)

Under French president François Hollande, who has taken a more business-friendly tack in recent years, the mostly state-owned public hospital system is attempting to extend the work hours of 75,000 employees—an effort that has prompted protests.

The prospect of a broader repeal of the laws protecting France’s standard 35-hour work week caused an uproar last year, suggesting the relatively lax demands on French workers won’t disappear overnight. So for now, it’s just a few French industries seeking changes (and in the case of EDF, a particularly generous contract being renegotiated).

But competitiveness might demand a further shift.