EDF's 10-week holiday and the fight against France's 35-hour week

Francois Hollande's government is gradually moving away from one-size-fits-all socialism.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 29 Jul 2015

Workers at EDF, France’s state-owned energy company, get a 10-week holiday. You heard that right – around 30,000 white-collar employees across the pond get almost double the UK’s statutory paid leave. Jammy croissants.

But that cushy deal could be under threat, as debate swells in France about the strictures of the infamous 35-hour working week, introduced back in 1998. EDF has given employees who work longer hours extra holiday in recompense since 1999, but is negotiating with unions to bring hours into line with the rest of the world, according to the FT.

EDF staff work an average 39.5 hours a week and get an extra 23 days off a year, on top of their usual 27. The company is dangling a one-off payment of €10,000 (£7,100) in front of employees to persuade them to ditch that, while execs earning an average of €51,600 can also opt into a payrise of 4-6%.

‘We are no longer in the same market as in 1999,’ EDF’s group strategy director Philippe Torrion wrote to employees earlier this month, according to the FT. ‘It is also a question of credibility. We cannot be out of step with the world.’

The CFDT union is arguing staff should be compensated staff to the tune of €80,000 and it’s not clear yet where the final deal will end up. But it’s a sign of a changing debate in France, particularly as the state is increasingly on the side of employers. For example, the socialist government is trying to extend the working hours of around 75,000 staff in 38 hospitals with paying them extra, a move which prompted 5,000 to go on strike last week.

But despite the fabled 35-hour week, French full-time workers actually work an average of 39.1 hours a week, according to Eurostat data, more than six other countries. They do get more holiday for that – the 1,661-hour French working year is the second-lowest in the EU, ahead of the Finns on 1,648 hours.

The UK tops the table on 42.1 hours per week, but the French actually have far higher productivity than we do – and some of the highest in Europe. But with a long way for France to go to dig itself out of the economic doldrums, our cross-Channel cousins may well have to spare a few days of their precious leave.

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