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France's economy minister stumbles on 35-hour-week, again

28 august 2015, 17:48

France's divisive economy minister has once again made waves among Socialists by criticising the country's sacrosanct 35-hour week just as the ruling party gathers for its annual conference, AFP reports.

Emmanuel Macron, a 37-year-old former investment banker whose appointment last year created a stir among the leftist rebel rump of the party, told a gathering of business leaders that those on the left were not "exempt from criticism."

"A long time ago, the left believed... that France would be better off if people worked less. That was a wrong idea," he said Thursday, in a thinly-veiled criticism of the 35-hour law introduced under the government of former Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

Supporters say the flagship policy of the French left creates jobs by limiting the amount of time employees are allowed to work, thereby encouraging companies to take on more staff.

But critics at home and abroad say it is an inflexible law that hampers business and creates a bloated workforce.

Socialist leaders were quick to bring Macron back into line Friday, just as the annual party conference opened in the western coastal city of La Rochelle.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the 35-hour week would not be reformed.

"The real issues are employment and growth. Small comments harm public life," he added, while Macron himself said he was not talking specifically about the 35-hour week but of work in general.

This is not the first time that the clean-cut former Rothschild banker has irritated Socialists who see his appointment as a shift to the right for the government.

Just one day into his job in August last year, he kicked off a political firestorm with comments about... the 35-hour week.

"We could allow companies and sectors... to depart from the rules on working time and pay," Macron told Le Point weekly.

He later described France as being "sick."

Then he created a package of reforms aimed at reviving France's stuttering economy, which proved so controversial that Valls used a rare constitutional procedure to force the bill through parliament in February.

The reforms, which include extending the number of Sundays shops can stay open and freeing up certain sectors of the economy, were finally adopted by parliament last month.

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