Économie et Statistique n° 376-377 - 2004The shorter working week
The reduction in the working week from 1997 to 2003: the construction of the «Aubry» acts and preliminary evaluations
The unique feature of the «Aubry» acts is that they combine a sharp legislative reduction in the legal working week with a sector and corporate bargaining incentive based on a two-step mechanism. In June 1998, the first act set a new legal working week norm (to be introduced on 1 January 2000 for firms with over 20 employees and on 1 January 2002 for the others) and introduced an incentive scheme to provide assistance to firms that made the transition before these deadlines and created or kept jobs. The question of implementation details overtime, executives' working hours, modulation, part-time work and the minimum wage was left until the tabling of a second act to be based on the content of the collective sector and corporate bargaining in between time. The method used by the «Aubry» acts hence opened up the possibility for unions and employers to examine the mechanism and influence the act's content and procedures. The second act adopted the main provisions resulting from the negotiations and lifted the working week performance and job volume constraints associated with the incentive scheme. It is not easy to make a short-run evaluation of the «Aubry» acts. Most of the qualitative and quantitative ex-post studies concern the pioneer firms and the first employees to switch to the 35-hour week in the private sector. Nevertheless, a certain number of conclusions can be drawn from these studies. The «Aubry» acts appear to have had a certain amount of short-run employment success with the creation of some 350,000 jobs. For employers, the introduction of the shorter working week provided an opportunity to introduce or increase flexibility. This moreover had an effect on some of the employees' working conditions.