French Tire Workers Vote to Bring Back 40-Hour Workweek

The Continental tire factory said it will be able to produce 200,000 more tires per year by increasing work hours.

Workers at a tire factory in eastern France voted on Dec. 18 to bring back the 40-hour workweek, management said, scrapping shorter hours introduced eight years ago. About 75% of employees said they wanted to work longer hours at the Continental tire factory in the town of Sarreguemines on France's border with Germany, during a vote held Dec. 16 and Dec. 18.

The employees were asked whether they wanted to work overtime and trade for cash between two and 10 days of compensation time allocated under the previous 35-hour workweek scheme. Factory director Francois Gerard said the plan to return to a longer workweek had been endorsed by a "massive and clear 'yes' vote" that would allow the company to improve its finances. "Our objective is to save two million euros per year by extending the work hours without increasing our social charges. We have no choice," Gerard told a news conference.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's rightwing government this month presented new legislation that would allow businesses to buy back vacation days allocated to their employees under the 35-hour-workweek that was brought in by a former Socialist government.

Gerard said his factory would be able to produce 200,000 more tires per year by increasing work hours and that if agreement can be reached with the unions on the terms for the longer hours, he will hire 50 new employees. Built in 1963, the Continental factory adopted the 35-hour workweek in December 1999 but management has complained that since then, the factory has been losing ground to its German competitors across the border.

Sarkozy, in office since May, has vowed to find ways to circumvent the shorter workweek legislation as part of his economic reform program to stimulate growth and bring down unemployment in France.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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