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Explainer: How France’s 35-hour week works in practice

We guide you through exceptions to the rule, overtime allowances and other legislation related to how much time you can spend on the job

The 35-hour week does exist in France, but with caveats Pic: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Yes, the 35-hour week is still in place and it would be considered political suicide for any French government to do away with it. 

However, you must remember that the 35-hour week is for salaried workers and in France there is a difference between workers and managers (cadres). 

Salaried managers, who also have different social security and retirement funds to pay into, have a legal maximum of 48 hours a week but this can be extended to 60 hours a week in exceptional cases with the agreement of authorities. 

A 35-hour week breaks down to five days of seven hours’ work. 

Lunch breaks are not counted, so to get to 35 hours, work is from 9:00 to 17:00, with an hour for lunch, five days a week. 

Depending on the government of the day, workers can do overtime (heures supplémentaires). 

It is usually limited by a rule that a working day should not exceed 10 hours, and is exempt from extra charges (such as social security contributions and tax) up to a point. 

This arrangement, brought in under President Nicolas Sarkozy, was popularised by his slogan Travailler plus pour gagner plus (‘Work more to earn more’). 

It is generally regarded as one of the most effective presidential slogans in recent French political history. 

The net effect on payslips is that an hour of overtime can be 30% better paid than an hour of normal work. 

If firms keep to the 10-hours-per-day rule, the maximum number of hours, including overtime, for salaried workers is 50 a week (five days of 10 hours), although this conflicts with another rule that the maximum hours worked a week, including overtime, is 48. 

The 44-hour week that you have read about elsewhere is from yet another rule stating the average working week, over 12 weeks, cannot pass 44 hours. 

The famous réduction du temps de travail or RTT (paid days off in addition to holidays) is often based on this. 

It usually takes two years of post-Bac study to get a job as an assistant in human resources departments in France – and a good part of that time is spent learning working hours rules. 

Of course, if you are your own boss, you can work as long as you like.

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