35 Hour Work Week
Less work - more jobs?
from The Jobs Letter No.71 / 9 January 1998
With French youth rioting over the New Year, and their unemployed and homeless occupying unemployment offices across the country, attention is focussing on PM Jospin's historic decision to introduce the 35-hr week (without a loss of pay) as one of his major strategies to combat unemployment. His plan to cut working hours is to become legally obligatory in all workplaces of more than 10 employees on 1st January 2000.
- But Jospin faces a huge backlash from French employers who are unhappy at the costs they will be paying for the reduced working hours. Ernest-Antoine Seilliere, of the French employers' organisation CNPF says that employers should boycott any nationwide labour talks and labour protection organisations that threatened "one cent more in costs."
Seilliere describes the financial incentives planned by French Employment Minister Martine Aubry to encourage employers to shorten working hours and take on more workers as a plan to "partly nationalise businesses". He has advised employers to "harass the administrative and political decision-makers, who have all the means to do what they like, to make them aware of the diversity of companies and the enormous problems posed by the 35-hour plan..."
- Paul Krugman, American economist and author of the 1994 US bestseller, Peddling Prosperity, has criticised the French 35-hr week plan as based on propositions that that still need much more debate. Writing on the electoral success of Lionel Jospin's socialists in the French election, Krugman observes: "Sooner than anyone might have expected, a radical economic doctrine has emerged from obscurity to become, in principle at least, the official ideology of a major advanced nation's government..."
Krugman has dubbed this new socialist economic path the "doctrine of global glut". He says it is based on three "fallacious but widely believed propositions": 1. That global productive capacity is growing at an exceptional, perhaps unprecedented rate; 2. That demand in advanced countries cannot keep up with the growth in potential supply; and 3. That the growth of newly emerging economies will contribute much more to global supply than to global demand.
"In the formative stages of a doctrine, both the intellectual and the political establishment tend to regard them as unworthy of notice. Meanwhile, the doctrines can seem compelling to large numbers of people, some of whom have considerable political clout, financial resources or both. By the time it becomes apparent that such influential ideas -- say, supply-side economics -- demand serious attention after all, reasoned argument has become very difficult. People have become invested emotionally, politically, and financially in the doctrine,"
Krugman believes that such doctrines, in economics and elsewhere, often fail to get adequately discussed in their early stages. He calls for more discussion on the "global glut" before it becomes "a dogma impervious to logic and evidence..."
Krugman: "In the formative stages of a doctrine, both the intellectual and the political establishment tend to regard them as unworthy of notice. Meanwhile, the doctrines can seem compelling to large numbers of people, some of whom have considerable political clout, financial resources or both. By the time it becomes apparent that such influential ideas -- say, supply-side economics -- demand serious attention after all, reasoned argument has become very difficult. People have become invested emotionally, politically, and financially in the doctrine, careers and even institutions have been built on it, and its proponents can no longer allow themselves to contemplate the possibility that they have taken a wrong turn..."
- Our Media Watch reports success stories of the 35-hr work week already starting to circulate on internet newsgroups. One practical experience with the six-hour working day gaining attention is from Finland.
Tony Carlyle of the Global Times reports that in the boom days of 1988 in Lojo, Finland, the plastics manufacturing company Orthex found that it could not keep its workforce. It was paying 30 marks per hour but just down the road at the paper mill workers could get 100 marks an hour. So the company decided to make itself more attractive by cutting working hours from eight to six and still pay the workers for eight.
Orthex was promptly expelled from the employers' federation and the unions became very suspicious. Now the company is besieged by study groups and both unions and employers say they are pleased with the results.
- The gamble the company took was that people would rather have more free time than more money. There was a catch, however. Employees would have to do without extra holidays as set out in their collective agreement. This meant the company could save money because to replace those away on holiday it would have to pay others overtime to keep up production.
One unexpected saving was that time lost due to illness almost disappeared. Tony Carlyle reports that people felt better and their health improved. The same phenomenon was also apparent at the large Finnish tyre producer Nokia, who brought in a six-hour working day. Their staff suddenly stopped taking days off for illness altogether.
"a union survey of shorter working hours has found workers generally interested in negotiating shorter hours of work, and that they would consider some kind of financial sacrifice -- as long as full-time jobs were created as a result"
- In Canada, a union survey of shorter working hours has found workers generally interested in negotiating shorter hours of work, and that they would consider some kind of financial sacrifice -- as long as full-time jobs were created as a result. The survey found that concern about finances and anxieties about change are common responses to shorter work time proposals. But when unions on behalf of members initiate the move to shorter hours, the time away from work is extremely popular among workers.
- In Sarnia, Ontario, a union negotiated one extra day off every three weeks. Six other union plants, plus some non-union plants and public sector workers followed suit. In a town of 100,000 people, these Happy Fridays are now a community event with family picnics, fishing derbies, golf tournaments and other activities scheduled for these days.
Sources -- Reuters 29 November 1997 "French employers turn up heat on work week cut "; Sydney Morning Herald 15 October 1997 "A global glut in the one nation" by Max Walsh; Global Times 28 August 1997 "The Six-Hour Day Works" By Tony Carlyle; PSA Journal December 1997 "Less work, more jobs, more fun".
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