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PARIS — Though international locations throughout Western Europe have been convulsed by strikes this winter, French unions have drawn few cries of cross-border solidarity of their combat in opposition to a deliberate enhance within the retirement age from 62 to 64, at the same time as they introduced components of their nation to a standstill Tuesday.

Commentators elsewhere in Europe have mocked the anger over “what would appear like a mild reform” anyplace however France — a delusional “island of the blessed” the place full-time workers get not less than 5 weeks of trip a yr. French Inside Minister Gérald Darmanin, in the meantime, prompt “laziness” was driving the opposition in opposition to the federal government’s plan.

It might be arduous for outsiders to muster sympathy for French employees, with their 35-hour workweeks, their beneficiant lunch breaks and trip time, and their “proper to disconnect” from job-related communication exterior working hours. However the French protesters say they’re misunderstood. Their livid response to President Emmanuel Macron’s plan, they are saying, is rooted not in laziness however in the truth that the French are already working arduous — too arduous, actually.

France’s ‘Black Thursday’ strikes disrupt faculties, halt trains

“Many unions agree that earlier than contemplating pension reform, one should first discuss work itself,” mentioned Bruno Palier, a analysis director at Sciences Po Paris who focuses on European welfare fashions.

“An American may be shocked to listen to it, on condition that we have now paid holidays and a 35-hour workweek in France,” he mentioned, however “when the French work, they work very, very arduous.”

French employees march in Paris on March 7 as commerce unions stepped up campaigns to curb pension reforms that will enhance the retirement age two years. (Video: TWP)

Measured by output per hour, French employees have been extra productive than their German counterparts — who are sometimes perceived to be obsessive about effectivity — and solely barely much less productive than Individuals in 2019, in line with the Group for Financial Cooperation and Improvement.

France additionally has a number of the highest ranges of burnout and on-the-job accidents amongst European employees, which researchers have attributed to a generally poisonous and hierarchical work tradition that limits workers’ progress and engagement. After accounting for variations in buying energy, Individuals earn about 17 % greater than French employees, OECD knowledge exhibits.

Critics of Macron’s retirement plans have supplied a variety of arguments in opposition to the plan to extend the retirement age to 64 by 2030, together with that blue-collar employees — who on common die sooner than their white-collar counterparts — can be hit hardest. However frustration with what many right here understand as deteriorating working situations, Palier mentioned, “is essential to understanding the resistance,” too.

After weeks of protests, unions counted over 300 marches throughout France on Tuesday. The Inside Ministry estimated the variety of protesters at 1.28 million, whereas unions put the determine at 3.5 million.

Many trains and flights have been canceled, metro strains remained closed, and greater than 35 % of primary-school lecturers participated within the strikes, in line with officers. There have been some clashes between protesters and authorities in Paris and different cities.

Protests will proceed to affect railway site visitors and refineries on Wednesday, unions mentioned, elevating the potential for days of nationwide disruptions.

Whereas some in France rushed to fuel stations to arrange for doable shortages, most approve of the strikes, polls present.

Annie Sicre, 62, a former translator who participated in a Paris march on Tuesday, mentioned the next retirement age makes little sense when some French firms have developed a fame for pushing out workers of their late 50s.

“All through my profession, I witnessed work turn out to be extra intense — and by the point I turned 55, 58, I began to battle,” she mentioned. After stretches of stress-related sick depart, she spent the ultimate two years of her work life on unemployment advantages, earlier than retiring in January.

What’s forward of her now, she mentioned, “is one other a part of life — and everybody has the appropriate to get pleasure from it. This nation isn’t poor.”

The next retirement age would push many near-pensioners into unemployment or into bodily difficult jobs within the gig financial system, she mentioned.

Macron, who misplaced his absolute majority in Parliament final yr, has weighed his response to the sustained protests rigorously. However he nonetheless enraged left-wing critics when he mentioned he hasn’t been in a position to “spot public anger” over his plans. Macron has maintained {that a} increased retirement age would mirror rising life expectancy within the nation, which has elevated by about three years over the previous twenty years. A lot of France’s neighbors have increased retirement ages, although the complexity of Europe’s pension programs makes them troublesome to match.

In an interview final month, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne signaled that there could also be some room for compromise on working situations. Acknowledging that the French “aren’t pleased at work,” she promised to deal with their dissatisfaction. However Borne and others are going about it the flawed manner, left-wing critics say.

In late January, Gabriel Attal, the bold price range minister, introduced that he would take a look at implementing a four-day workweek. Somewhat than slicing working hours, nevertheless, Attal envisioned spreading the 35 hours over 4 days as a substitute of 5. This might create a workday solely barely longer than the common in the US, however the concept introduced a swift backlash. Somewhat than placing extra stress on workers, critics mentioned, the federal government ought to attempt to cut back their burden.

Philippe Askenazy, a French economist, was on a group of U.S.- and France-based researchers that a few decade in the past studied the working situations of cashiers in American and French supermarkets. Maybe surprisingly, they discovered that French cashiers had increased targets for the scanning of things and added extra worth per hour than their American counterparts.

Askenazy attributes the excessive workload in France to the adoption in 2000 of the 35-hour workweek, which was meant to spice up job progress however has in some methods created a paradoxical work setting.

One of many many guidelines which can be purported to separate work and leisure time is a legislation that bans employees from consuming lunch at their desks. On the identical time, although, firms have embraced “high-performance office practices and elevated the monitoring of employees,” Askenazy mentioned.

For the reason that introduction of the 35-hour workweek, the French have turn out to be much less enthusiastic concerning the significance of their jobs and fewer happy with their firms, in line with the left-wing Jean-Jaurès Basis. Fewer persons are excited by administration positions, and a few have surreptitiously disconnected from work — akin to the “quiet quitting” pattern elsewhere.

Palier, the political scientist, factors to clusters of work-linked suicides as essentially the most placing signal of the poisonous work tradition that has emerged in France. In a landmark case final yr, an appeals courtroom convicted the previous CEO of France’s greatest telecommunications firm of “institutional ethical harassment” after 19 employees died by suicide.

Whoever desires to make the French admire work once more, Palier mentioned, might want to confront the poisonous features and failures “of the connection with work in France, with administration, and the way in which we’ve tried to assemble a method of competitiveness.”

French employees march in Paris on March 7 as commerce unions stepped up campaigns to curb pension reforms that will enhance the retirement age two years. (Video: TWP)

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