Employers reeling from the shock of the Working Time Regulations and the 48-hour working week should spare a thought for their counterparts across La Manche. France has a weekly maximum of 39 hours - to be reduced to just 35 next year. What's more, French bosses are personally open to prosecution if their staff work over the limit, even if they are willing to do so.
Take Bernard Rocquement, the former head of the Thomson electronics plant near Paris. 'Job police' lurked in the company car park with stopwatches and monitored employees' use of computers. During 1997, they clocked junior executives working 45,000 hours of unrecorded and unpaid overtime above the 39-hour limit - enough work for an extra 25 full-time staff! Rocquement was convicted of 'clandestine working practices' and fined 93,300 francs (around £10,000).
Many other companies, however, are working around the law without breaking it - 'annualising' the number of hours worked, for example, or increasing the hours worked by part-timers.
Sounds like great news for French employment (and criminal) lawyers, n'est-ce pas? Except that law firms are coming under increasing pressure to adopt the 35-hour week themselves. That could seriously limit their capacity for sorting out their clients' problems.
Michael Burd and James Davies at Lewis Silkin, solicitors.
0171 227 8000; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.