Wednesday, 9 July 2008

A 35 HOUR week? GP policy briefing from Brian Heatley


35 hour week


To introduce a 35 hour week along the lines of the French model.

What is the proposal?

To oblige employers to enter into collective agreements with their workforces where the normal working week averages no more than 35 hours over an agreed period, typically one year.

Voluntary overtime remains possible, but average total working time with overtime must not exceed over 48 hours over the period, and must be paid at a premium rate.

Hourly paid workers, especially those on the minimum wage, will be protected from any overall pay reduction caused by a reduction in working hours.

Arguments for the proposal.

This proposal addresses Britain’s long hours culture, where:

- 4 million work over 48 hours a week on average
- two thirds of them have not been asked, as required by law, to opt-out of the EU working time directive
- 60% of those working more than 48 hours say they want to work less
- full time UK employees work the longest average hours in Europe, 43.5 hours as against 38.2 in France and 39.9 in Germany
- long hours are damaging family life and causing stress and illness
- one in three workers don’t take all the holidays they are entitled to because of pressures at work.[1]

Less work means more time for family life and childcare, for activity around the house like cooking and DiY, for life in our local communities and for self expression, sport, exercise, personal interests and leisure.

If unemployment rises, shorter hours will create more jobs; in France up to 500,000 new jobs were created.[2]

Long hours culture particularly discriminates against women in the workplace, since they are less well placed if developing a career necessarily involves long hours, and places greater burdens upon them at home.

Productivity increases with shorter hours – it is higher in France and Germany. Workers are more alert and energetic, and work smarter rather than longer.

Defensive points

Employers will not be able to afford it, and it will damage the economy. There is no evidence of actual damage to the French economy. And some things are more important than work.

It is far too inflexible for small employers. Small employers would receive help to adapt, and they coped in France.

The need for collective agreements gives Trades Unions too much power. It is right that workers are protected by Trades Unions, and if the need for collective agreements gives them a boost that is a good thing.

The averaging provisions allow employers to demand too much flexibility, and some employers simply increase the intensity of work. That is why the detailed arrangements need to be the subject of proper collective agreements.

Suggestions for local action

Contact your local Trades Council to find out about campaigns about long hours in your area (contacts at


This is existing MfSS policy in WR344 which says ‘We are committed in the medium-term to a reduction in working hours to an average of 35 hours per week. The Green Party will enact legislation in order to bring about this change.’

The French 35 hour week was introduced in 2000 for firms with over 20 employees and in 2002 for smaller companies.[3] It replaced a 39 hour limit. It was relaxed in 2005 in the private sector, to allow up to 48 hours, the EU Working time directive limit.[4] President Sarkozy has opposed the 35 hour week in the past, but public opinion has recently forced him to backtrack.[5] Its effects are widely contested.

The UK has an opt-out to the EU Working time Directive permitting employees to agree to work more than 48 hours. The principal TUC campaign on long hours focuses on ending the opt-out,[6] which we also oppose (WR343).

Further information

For facts on long hours see the TUC website at Contact Pete Murry of the Green Party Trade Union Group on

[1] Facts from TUC at
[2] An estimate from, though the extent of job creation is very contested.
[3] See
[4] See
[5] See for example,1518,555655,00.html.
[6] See

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