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Government Adds

PARIS — It’s about time.<br><br>That’s how French fashion firms reacted to this week’s news that the French government will loosen restrictions on the country’s mandatory 35-hour workweek, raising the limit on the amount...

PARIS — It’s about time.

That’s how French fashion firms reacted to this week’s news that the French government will loosen restrictions on the country’s mandatory 35-hour workweek, raising the limit on the amount of allowed overtime. Employees will now be allowed to work 180 hours of paid overtime per year rather than the current 130 hours.

“The more they make it flexible, the better it is,” said Sidney Toledano, president of Christian Dior Couture. He noted that the 35-hour limit has not been a major hurdle for Dior’s couture or ready-to-wear operations. “The problem was more in the retail activity,” he said. “We have to provide service all day, so we have had to hire more people.”

The reduction in the workweek, a tactic to create jobs introduced by the previous Socialist government, handicaps manufacturers and small companies, and limits the earning potential of workers. France has some of the most rigid labor regulations in Europe.

That’s why the relaxation of rules by the current center-right government is winning wide applause.

“It’s great news,” said Olivier Fournier, president of the textile division of Hermès. “The new system will be more flexible and help us meet our customers’ needs better.”

Sophie Veron, marketing and development manager at knit fabric specialist Guigou, agreed. “It’s very positive for business,” she said, interviewed at the Première Vision fabric fair here Thursday. “We will be able to produce more in a shorter amount of time, which makes it more profitable for everyone.”

Veron noted that turnaround time between receipt of orders and desired delivery is typically less than two months. “It’s imperative to have as much manpower as possible,” she said. Before, we had orders and couldn’t produce it.”

To be sure, many companies have found ways around the regulations. Some ignore them outright; others cope with reduced hours by offering additional vacation.

Several companies, including retailer Printemps and fashion house Féraud, declined comment on the changes, saying future labor laws are not yet clear.

This story first appeared in the September 20, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.