Has France Banned Work Emails After 6 PM?

Anglo press had reported that employers were not able to contact their staffs after 6 pm. Photo: Robert S. Donovan for Flickr.

Anglo press had reported that employers were not able to contact their staffs after 6 pm. Photo: Robert S. Donovan for Flickr.

Anglo press reported last week that the French government had supposedly made it illegal for company employees to contact staff after 6 PM. “No emails after 6pm please, we are French,” quipped endgadget.com.

Publications including The Guardian and The Australian originally reported that the new French reform would affect over one million workers and crackdown on laptops and smartphones in the workplace.

French press criticized Anglo media for promoting worn-out stereotypes of the French and for mocking the “overprotection of employees at the expense of journalistic accuracy,” read an article on Slate.fr.

There is in fact no new law, but a labor agreement signed by unions and the hi-tech and consulting fields. It covers about 250,000 “autonomous workers” whose contracts are based on days worked, not hours, thereby putting them outside the standard 35-hour week limit category for ordinary French employees. Nowhere in the agreement is there any mention of a 6pm cut-off. The agreement does refer to an “obligation to disconnect communications tools”, but only after an employee has worked a 13-hour day. These workers may need to work weekends as well, but must have at least one day off per week.

The general sentiment in the French press was that the English would never miss an opportunity to ridicule their neighbors across the channel. Persistently stereotyped as lazy, arrogant, and constantly striking “Frogs,” stories that reiterate these clichés do well in English media. The original Guardian blog had over 1000 comments on the story.

Recent French graduate of Sciences Po, Alexia Luquet, said she was disappointed by the lack of details in the press on this case. “I have a feeling it is linked to jealousy. Every worker envies our legal system because we work 35 hours a week, we have paid holidays, health insurance. So in a way, that makes me even more proud to be French.”

After running a correction, the Economists’ blog “Charlemagne” posted an article that read, “The real trouble for France is that the story even appeared plausible in the first place.”

Is it?

It seems that the manner in which the story was handled and so quickly disseminated across the Web, perhaps says more about the Anglo, and more specifically the British, attitudes towards the French.

Even though over 100 years have passed since the Entente Cordiale was signed between Britain and France, insuring a political friendship, relations between the two countries have remained frosty on several fronts. Stereotypes between the two nations exist on both sides, but they seem sharper amongst the British.

“I can’t believe what is said and appears in the national press in Britain. If you interchanged the word French for black, you would be branded a racist,” said Christian Roudaut, author of a book on Anglo-French relations ‘L’entente Glaciale,’ in an interview with the BBC.

This traditional antagonism between the two countries was reflected in a recent survey by Washington, D.C. based Pew Research Center. Britons judged the French to be the least trustworthy and the most arrogant of the eight countries polled. The Pew report was based on surveys in eight countries (UK, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Czech Republic, Poland and Spain) to measure people’s attitudes to their neighbors in the EU.

The over-generalizations in the press get in the way of understanding the reality of the French employment situation.

28-year old Karim Dris, currently employed at an insurance company in Paris, said he often had to work overtime at the beginning of his career. “I would stay at work till 7 PM or 8 PM, because at the beginning, you need to prove yourself,” he explained.

Alexia described how even after eight years of education, she would consider taking an unpaid internship to improve her resume, and in part because she could receive a small compensation from the government.

However, she added, “There is a French collective called ‘Génération précaire,’ which claims that no one should accept a job for free, and even more, that people who’ve graduated, like me, should not accept any internship, because every job deserves to be paid and because it reduces the value of our degrees.”

There is an economic rationale for the French labor laws. Violating the collective consensus of ‘We aren’t willing to work for free’, especially in the current job market, is common, but in this rare case, French workers have collectively demanded the best conditions and refuse anything less.

So rather than ridiculing them, the Anglo press could perhaps learn a thing or two from the workers’ rights strategies of their neighbors across the channel.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: