French overtime under threat

The French government’s push to reduce the number of weekly working hours could have major repercussions for the country’s design groups.

The government wants to reduce the hours employees work before they qualify for overtime, from 39 to 35 hours a week. This could hike up costs which are currently kept down by staff working long hours, according to Paris Venise Design commercial manager Bertrand Chovet.

Many French designers already work more than the existing 39 hour limit without overtime pay, and this is unlikely to change if the proposal is passed, says one industry expert.

However, the French government is expected to police any new legislation more fiercely.

And with the gap between government levels and actual working hours set to widen, designers may put their foot down over payment for overtime, adds Chovet.

“If the legislation is passed and our costs rise as a result, we might consider moving our creative staff to the UK where taxes are cheaper as well. We would have to keep our administrative staff in Paris close to the business,” he says. Paris Venise Design is a 15-strong group with eight designers.

The legislation would have less impact on French-based design groups owned by British consultancies, which tend to be smaller, strategic operations.

Fitch business development manager Aurelia Van Dommelen says: “If anything it will help the group because we can be cheaper than a French consultancy, working longer hours for the same fees.” The French office comprises Fitch’s European chief executive and a senior architect.

Discussions with employment organisations about working hours have just begun and the industry expects the government to draw up legislation some time in the next six months, ready for implementation over the next two to four years.

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