Jean-Marc Ayrault Comments on 35-hour Workweek

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.
Photo: Flickr.com/jmayrault

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is again under enemy fire. In an interview Tuesday, October 30 with Le Parisien Magazine, he stated that opening a discussion about going back to a 39-hour workweek was not “a taboo subject.” He did not know then that he had made a blunder that would be used against him.

The reform for a 35-hour workweek, ratified in 2000 under Jospin’s government, is the main reform of which the left wing is proud. In France, reforming the workweek is quite a feat that nobody dares to undertake, not even the right wing. Now, France is seeing a socialist Prime Minister break that sacred rule.Criticism, even from his own camp, followed immediately.

Warned by the Elysée, Ministers Michel Sapin and Laurent Fabius, ran behind Ayrault to try to save him. The same day the interview was published, Sapin reacted on the radio RTL, saying that the “35-hour workweek must not be suppressed” and must stay as the legal length of the workweek. He added that “suppressing the 35 hour workweek is suppressing overtime, then, it’s working more for less pay.”

The Prime Minister’s blunder became publicly worse when, instead of keeping a low profile, he decided to make no comment on the radio France Info. “We have no intention of going back on the 35-hour workweek because it’s not the cause of our economic issues. There are so many more,” he said.

In front of what was viewed as so much clumsiness and lack of tact, the right wing did not hesitate for a moment to fire criticism. Valérie Pécresse, ex-minister of the budget under Nicolas Sarkozy’s government and now on François Fillon’s list for UMP’s presidency, ironically shouted first, by thanking Ayrault for what she called his “lightening of lucidity.” Christian Jacob, leader of the UMP in the Assembly, added criticism when he questioned, “Is there a pilot in the plane?” Bernard Accoyer tried to finish the job, “You were right to open this debate without any taboo,” he said to the Prime Minister. Ayrault did not feel defeated as he defended himself by saying, “the legal work length is 35 hours per week and that shall never change.” Furthermore, even if the prime minister tried to respond with his best retort, the attacks came from everywhere, even from his own party.

The unionist François Chérèque, leader of the CFDT, considered that “it was out of question to debate the legal length of hours per week and that if the government touched it he would have the CFDT on its way.” “It’s time the prime minister stops meddling into politics very quickly,” he added. After a couple of days, Prime Minister Ayrault is still the target of the attacks. Being that the polls are in an all-time low, he is fast dragging the government down, which is not in his interests.

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