Mythbuster: The French are workshy with a 35-hour week

This is false. In fact, the French work more than employees in the UK

29 May 2019
By Connexion journalist

France is renowned for its near-mythical 35-hour working week, a “fact” that President Emmanuel Macron highlighted once again recently.

“France works, on average, much less than its neighbours,” Mr Macron said at a press conference following the end of the Grand Débat national debate.

It is an assertion that has come out of the mouths of many politicians over the years.

But it is inaccurate.

The president must have been relying on figures compiled in 2016 – using 2015 results – by the business-friendly economic research firm Coe-Rexecode. According to a study by the firm, the average effective annual working time of full-time employees in France was 1,646 hours.

The result put France at the bottom of the European working league table.

But the figures excluded part-time workers and the self-employed and thus failed to take into account a swathe of France’s working population.

In the Netherlands, for example, nearly half of 20-64-year-olds are on part-time contracts, compared to 19.3% of workers in France – and an average of 21% in the EU.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) includes part-time employees – but still ignores the self-employed – in its figures.

These put France ahead of Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the EU’s statistics office, Eurostat, estimates that French employees work, on average, 37.3 hours a week.

That is more than the European average of 37.1 hours, more than their counterparts in the UK (36.5 hours), Germany (34.9 hours) and the Netherlands (30.4 hours).

Perhaps more importantly, French workers, salaried or self-employed, are more productive than many of their European counterparts.

It has been argued – in The Economist, no less – that French workers could work a four-day week and still be more productive than their British counterparts.

It has also been estimated that the level of French productivity could be, in part, to blame for the country’s stubbornly high unemployment figures.

The French do enjoy more public holidays (11) than the British or the Dutch (both have eight) – as any self-employed parent who has just survived May will testify.

But even that is lower than other nations.

Germany, depending on how the dates fall, has between nine and 13, while the Greeks, Polish workers and Italians all enjoy more public holidays than their French counterparts.

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