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Monday, January 18, 2021

French labor reforms are put to the test

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French labor reforms are put to the test
French labor reforms are put to the test

France's generous vacation time-off and other employee benefits are the envy of much of the world.

One factory serves as an interesting case study as President Macron tries to reshape labor standards to be more like the United States or Great Britain.

Matthew Larotonda reports.

Generous vacation time-off, benefits, and employee protections make French workplaces the envy of much of the world.

So, it's no big surprise that very few companies have chosen to go along with President Emmanuel Macron's efforts to scale back some of those famous French perks.

One small factory in central France is among only 200 or so businesses to take the plunge, but it may serve as a case study.

Plasti-Tremp makes molded plastic parts for everything from cars to hand tools.

It recently increased its working week from 35 hours -- which is the norm in France -- to 39.

More controversially, the company also got rid of some of its paid sick leave, among other things.

And, the local union agreed with it, mostly.

Union rep Brice Thomas: (SOUNDBITE) (French) BRICE THOMAS, UNION REPRESENTATIVE AT PLATI TREMP, SAYING: "We weren't in agreement on everything (...) the unpaid sick days -- five unpaid sick days -- was hard.

We talked to employees about it, with coworkers, and it's true that when we're missing people, we work in a more stressful environment than when we're all here.

I wouldn't say we're working "just in time" but we just have enough employees." The changes brought the factory closer to working practices elsewhere in the world.

Owner, Jean-Pascal Godon, says they were necessary to keep afloat.

(SOUNDBITE) (French) JEAN-PASCAL GODON, PLASTI TREMP OWNER "We have to acknowledge that today, around the world, few countries have 35-hour working weeks.

My competitors are in countries where the cost of manpower is not the same as ours -- I'm referring to Asian countries, eastern countries -- and so while I'm walking at a certain pace, the world is running." The extended hours have gone down well with his staff because they mean consistently bigger paychecks every week, without the uncertainty of overtime.

Trade unions and labor activists say the reforms are a slippery slope, though.

That's why it's so controversial.

They're afraid that if France moves toward an uncontrolled free market, companies will start slipping into some of the worst practices seen in other countries.


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