Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Lazy And Proud Of It …

Well, France is in the grip of another round of 'avoiding work'. It’s November 1st, 'All Saints Day', 'All Hallows' or 'Hallowmas' which, according to the books, is a day of feasting celebrating the honour of said Saints. Churches are almost totally empty for the celebration as only 21% of those people who actually say they attend a service, actually go back on a regular basis.

So, once again, the French have taken this secular holiday to heart with Parisians spending Monday night going out for dinner and boozing it up. The thing is, when a holiday happens to fall on a Tuesday or Thursday, many French workers take the Monday or Friday off as well. This is not official and does not apply to institutions such as banks or government, but is sufficiently commonplace to cause difficulties doing business elsewhere. A magic 3-day week then opens up for those who take 'le pont' - the bridge.

France has a total of 14 national holidays and 5 weeks paid leave, not bad considering that 'functionaries' (civil servants) have the luxury of a 35hr working week. If you work for one of the big government outfits like telecoms, railways, electricity or gas, then you can expect to cash in on as many benefits as you can grab a hold of. Things, however, are changing …

More and more, France is waking up to the fact that in order to remain competitive in a global market, it can no longer wrap its citizens and businesses up in cotton wool - let alone rock them to sleep with a lullaby after each working day. She is indeed, a highly productive country. French GDP rose 0.2% in the first quarter of this year yet unemployment has also risen by 0.1% to affect 2.8 million people.

The government, seeing that the country's working trends no longer fit the global vision, has decided that it should partly-privatise its major companies; EDF, Telecom and the railways (SNCF). At every turn, employees have taken to the streets to voice their distaste, holding marches and strikes. Naturally, if France were to adopt a different working format and join the outside world, her workforce would loose many of its benefits.

Another scheme currently in discussion is that middle-class mothers might be paid up to €1,000 (£675) a month (almost the minimum wage) to stop work for a year and have a third child under a government scheme to boost the birth rate. This country already has one of the highest rates in Europe as it is. The female employment statistics are the envy of the European continent, yet the government remains worried over the reluctance of the better-educated woman to breed.

The jobless describe the relationship between work and unemployment as "hell inside, hell outside" but figures show that some of the "precarious" population aren't doing too badly with around 15% receiving a handout of more than €885 (£600) a month.

England and Wales only has six national holidays and four weeks paid leave but France sits back and gloats. She knows that she needs to rethink her holiday and working practises as the economy can no longer take the strain.

The government may have some ideas but it's the hearts and minds that refuse to follow.

Happy day off (again),

Stu

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