Do the French really work harder than the British?

Man wearing French vest under suit

The French work harder than the British, says the French embassy in London, in response to an article in the free newspaper City AM, provocatively titled "France's failed socialist experiment is turning into a tragedy". So is it true, asks Agnes Poirier, a French journalist living in London.

While France is temporarily distracted by revelations about President François Hollande's night life, the French ambassador to Britain is more concerned about setting France's economic record straight.

France's labour productivity stands at a healthy €45.4 (£38) per hour worked according to Eurostat, well ahead of the EU average of €32.1, while the OECD reports that the average number of hours per week worked in France stood at 38 hours for 2011, compared to 36.4 in the UK and 35.5 in Germany. Productivity per hour in France is 15% higher than in the UK. Hard work indeed!

My own experience of working in both countries tends to show that employees in France's private sector work as hard as their British neighbours, if not more - not longer hours but just harder when they do.

The 35-hour week, long criticised by the conservative Chirac and Sarkozy governments, is a reality still to many French workers. However, over the years, the law has been amended and workers can ask to clock more hours a week if they wish. Managers, who are not subject to the 35-hour limit, more often than not clock more than 44 hours of work a week. Recently, many French workers from the retail sector have petitioned the government to be allowed to work after midnight and on Sundays in order to earn more.

The cliche of two-hour long lunches belongs, for most French workers, to a distant past. Another stereotype, according to which French workers are always on strike and paralysing the country, must also be revised. The French trade union movement is one of the weakest in Europe with only 8% of employees in unions. Private-sector workers almost never go on strike. It's only France's public-sector workers who are highly unionised and have learned how to take to the streets and make themselves heard.

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