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Europe

Longer Workweek Debate Hits France

While several German companies have recently reached deals with workers to extend work hours in return for job security, French leaders have now also begun questioning the country's once sacrosanct 35-hour workweek.

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France's joie de vivre is under attack

"We need to increase productivity and stay competitive to prevent companies from moving abroad."

Statements like this one have become common among German politicians, who worry that the country's high labor costs will push firms to shift production elsewhere.

In France, political leaders until recently criticized the push by German companies to introduce longer workweeks as "pretty horrible blackmailing," adding that the French government would not let company executives threaten workers to either accept the changes or face losing their job.

Jean-Pierre Raffarin

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin

Now, French Premier Jean-Pierre Raffarin (photo) has joined the chorus: During a speech before France's parliament, the conservative politician said the 35-hour workweek -- introduced by a previous Socialist government -- was to blame for the country's economic woes.

"The 35 hours have killed growth since 2000," Raffarin said, adding that his government would make the fight against job flight a top priority in 2005. He hopes to reduce France's unemployment rate of 9.8 percent, which lies 0.8 percent above the euro zone's rate.

But Raffarin is not the only one willing to take on the issue. French President Jacques Chirac also said this month that workers should be able to spend more than 35 hours on the job each week.

Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, rumored to be a possible successor to Chirac, has suggested giving tax exemptions to companies that move jobs to poor areas of the country.

German company starts the trend in France

While German companies Siemens and DaimlerChrysler have already hammered out controversial deals with workers, including longer workweeks, another German company has already begun doing the same in France.

Produktion bei Bosch

A worker at a Bosch plant

In mid-July, workers at a Bosch car parts factory near Lyon agreed to work 36 hours per week in return for the company's promise not to move jobs to the Czech Republic. The deal has saved 190 of 300 jobs Bosch was planning to scrap, according to news reports. Others, including Nexans, Europe's biggest cable maker, have said that they may ask workers to accept longer workweeks as well, according to Reuters news agency.

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