By  on May 27, 2008

PARIS — As France's center-right government mulls changes to the 35-hour workweek, manufacturers and retailers here are hoping simpler, more flexible rules will become as fashionable as pre-collections.

"We can only be in favor of a relaxation of the rules related to work hours, which should be adapted according to the various professional domains," said Sylvie Zawadzki, general delegate of the Chambre Syndicale. "For fashion houses, work hours are particularly difficult to control during the collections, as it's almost impossible to predict a designer's workload and to precisely anticipate a fixed time period for the construction of [garments]."

Lanvin president Paul Deneve said it is particularly difficult to manage staffing during peak collection periods, as there are tight and complex restrictions around overtime and weekend hours. "It means we have to hire more interim labor," he explained.

Deneve said he would welcome relaxed rules, so long as they also streamlined administration.

Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel's president of fashion, agreed that "a more flexible system, which would allow us to better adapt to the cycles of our business," would be a boon.

However, he noted that Chanel implemented a "modulation" system that "allows us to balance work times between 'high' and 'low' periods by respecting the rhythm of collections."

Christophe Caillaud, president of Jean Paul Gaultier, said he's "favorable to some of the measures concerning the extra work hours and especially the increase of the quotas, the possibility of decentralized negotiations and the principal of tax exemption."

He noted that the 35-hour week, despite its restraints, has increased productivity in general, especially in couture. Still, he said he would applaud flexibility with extra hours.

"When a dress has been made 90 percent by one worker, it cannot be passed along to another one with the same hand," Caillaud said.

Stanislas de Quercize, the president of Van Cleef & Arpels, said dealing with the 35-hour workweek was often "challenging" for the Paris jeweler, and that any easing of the legislation would be welcome. "It would allow us to satisfy our customers better," he said. "Flexibility is important."


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