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.

This story first appeared in the May 27, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“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.”


De Quercize explained that it was particularly difficult in the high jewelry trade because it’s impossible to simply hire more manpower to knock out products. “It takes up to 15 years in training before our workmen master their trade,” he said. “We have to meet demand with a limited labor pool. I would be in favor of a change.”

“Basically, what we need is more freedom, more flexibility and less costs,” said Eric Bonnem, managing director of French surfwear brand Oxbow. “People should be free to choose how they want to organize their life, whether they want to work hard or whether they want to go surfing more.”

Bonnem said the 35-hour law, introduced in 1998, “increased misunderstanding between employees and employers” and diminished spending power. “Plus the costs of these measures were and are very significant for companies. This leads to a loss in competitiveness for French firms on the world stage.”

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