Monday, May 02, 2005

Lundi de Pentecôte

I said in my last post that the French government has been in the doghouse lately. Well, it’s not as if they haven’t been barking. The latest thing they’ve bungled by making all the wrong noises is the Monday Pentecost holiday. Two years ago, after a heat wave sent an estimated 15,000 elderly people to their graves a few years earlier than expected because there weren’t enough doctors, hospital workers or air conditioners in Paris that August, the government decided that a grand gesture was needed. They decided that lundi de Pentecôte, normally a holiday here, would no longer be and got a new law passed to make sure of it. People would work on Pentecost Monday, but it’s still not clear to me whether they would be paid. I think they would be paid if they were hourly workers, but not if they were on a salaried basis. Anyway, let’s assume they were to be paid. Then companies would pay more payroll taxes. Come to think of it the workers would have to be paid, otherwise how could the companies pay more payroll tax. But then why is there now all of a sudden an uproar and threats of strikes on the grounds that the government can’t force people to work without compensation? I must be missing something.

The government has done nothing to promote this grand gesture. Meanwhile, union leaders have moved into the media vacuum and managed to turn the debate around to their terms, and I can’t say I blame them. They ask why should only salaried work be contributing to this noble cause. What about financial income? Shouldn’t that also be “taxed”?

While the government has been doing nothing, companies have been taking what little initiative they can. Some have decided on a grand gesture of their own: They’ll give their employees the day off, but they’ll still pay the extra taxes. Others have decided to let their employees take the day off, but in return, employees will have to give up an RTT* day. Still others will require employees to work, in accordance with the new law. S. says that soon the travel industry will be complaining, because families won’t be able to go away for a three-day weekend. Weekend getaways are hard enough to organize as it is. If you add more stars that have to align, the chances diminish.

See how helpful this will all be for elderly people?

* “RTT”, or “réduction du temps de travail”, is an outgrowth of the previous government’s inspired, forced-progress initiative, the 35-hr. workweek. Rather than increase the number of vacation days outright for people who are paid a yearly salary (as opposed to an hourly wage), it was decided that floating days would be given that could be combined with other vacation days only in very limited circumstances.



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