35-hour week tests marketers

Legislation currently being shaped in France to regulate the working week will have important implications for the marketing and communications industry.

Commonly referred to as the Loi Aubry, after France’s employment minister Martine Aubry, the law will limit the working week to 35 hours from January 1 2000.

The law, the first version of which is already in place, will affect all companies with more than 20 employees and apply across the employment range, from factory-floor worker to the highest levels of management.

Contrary to the original idea behind the legislation, which was oriented towards traditional manufacturing industry, the law is to be strictly applied across all sectors of the professional world. Not even France’s management classes, or “cadres”, are immune.

This was proved by two recent cases brought against Carrefour, the supermarket operator, and an ex-chairman of Thomson-RCM for failing to keep adequate records and requiring management to work longer-than-permitted hours respectively.

For agencies, there are clear disadvantages to such restrictions, not least the risk that they will damage the effectiveness of a dynamic service industry which, by its very nature, needs to remain flexible to the needs of its client base – even if that base is, in theory, subject to the same legal restraints.

In addition, AACC, the French advertising agency association, estimates that agencies will incur extra costs, in the region of ten per cent, as a result of the legislation.

As with any externally imposed directive, it will take time for the marketing and advertising world to come to terms with the 35-hour week in a manner which makes sense for the industry. Given its impending introduction, however, the only way to address such a law is to see it as both a challenge and an opportunity for positive change.

As Jacques Bille, chairman of the AACC, told the French trade magazine CB News in a recent interview: “The Loi Aubry is a constraint [but] we would like to turn it into an opportunity to rethink the organisation of work within agencies.”

Proposals have been made as to how the legislation could be adapted to management and service industries in exchange for a relaxation of the 35-hour limit.

Ideas include extra paid leave, part of which could be used for professional training.

Developments such as this could only be welcome. As Didier Livio, head of the AACC Social Committee, told CB News: “People aren’t looking to work shorter hours necessarily, but to achieve a better balance in their lives.”

The challenge and opportunity of the new law will be to permit this, while simultaneously enhancing the quality of service the marketing industry provides.

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