The previous legal duration of the working week was 39 hours, which had been established by François Mitterrand, also a member of the Socialist Party. The 35-hour working week was in the Socialist Party's 1981 electoral program, titled 110 Propositions for France.
The 35 hours was the legal standard limit, after which further working time was to be considered overtime.
The main stated objectives of the law were twofold:
- To reduce unemployment and yield a better division of labor, in a context where some people work long hours while some others are unemployed. A 10.2% decrease in the hours extracted from each worker would, theoretically, require firms to hire correspondingly more workers, a remedy for unemployment.
- To take advantage of improvements in productivity of modern society to give workers some more personal time to enhance quality of life.
Another reason was that the Jospin government took advantage of the changes introduced with the 35-hour working week to relax other workforce legislation.
The 35-hour working week is controversial in France. Generally speaking, left wing parties and trade unions support it, while conservative parties and the MEDEF employers' union oppose it. Critics of the 35-hour working week have argued that it has failed to serve its purpose because an increase in recruitment has not occurred.
In their view, the reluctance of firms to take on new workers has instead simply increased per-hour production quotas. According to right-wing parties and economic commentators, the main reason why French firms avoid hiring new workers is that French employment regulations around labour flexibility make it difficult to lay off workers during a poor economic period.
Amendments to the law
The Raffarin government, some members of which were vocal critics of the law, gradually pushed for further relaxation of the legal working time requirements. On 22 December 2004, the French Parliament extended the maximum number of overtime hours per year from 180 to 220; on 31 March 2005, another law extended the possibilities of overtime hours.
- Fair Labor Standards Act (United States)
- New Employment Contract (France)
- First Employment Contract (France)
- Loi no 2005-296 du 31 mars 2005 portant réforme de l'organisation du temps de travail dans l'entreprise (in French)
- Workforce code
- (French) Official governmental site on the 35-hour workweek
- (French) Evaluation of the 35-hour workweek by INSEE