03 Juin La CFTC à l’international
Now that May is over, France can get back to work.
Last month, thanks to the vagaries of a lunar calendar that dictates the timing of Christian feast days, there were four holidays and five weekends, leaving 17 days for work.
Not since 1972 have the French been able to enjoy so much free time in a single month — without depleting their generous supply of paid vacation.
But in France, even holidays — of which there are 11, six tied to the Christian calendar — are a contentious business, none more than Pentecost Monday, also known as Whit Monday, which this year fell on May 25. It comes the day after the feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit, which comes 50 days after Easter, providing for a long spring weekend.
And yet, for the last 10 years this holiday has been less a day of rest than a day of confusion and, some say, injustice. Every year, there is a national guessing game about who is working, and who is not.
In 2014, three out of 10 French workers were on the job on Pentecost Monday. This year, they included garbage collectors, construction workers, truck drivers and supermarket clerks; but teachers, bankers and public employees had the day off. For working parents, it can be a nightmare.
The confusion dates from 2005, when the French government eliminated the paid holiday and resurrected it as a “day of solidarity,” when salaried workers were required to work without pay, with their wages going to a special fund devoted to the care of the elderly and the disabled.
In return, employers were mandated to contribute 0.3 percent of their salary base to the earmarked fund, set up in the wake of national shock over the deaths of some 15,000 elderly people left stranded during a heat wave in 2003.
The idea backfired. Unions rose up in protest against what they called a day of “enforced labor,” and by 2008 Pentecost Monday was back on the holiday calendar — sort of. But the “day of solidarity” survived.
Now workers donate a day’s wages, but not necessarily on Pentecost Monday.
It can come at any time during the year — either on another holiday, or by sacrificing another day off — under deals negotiated with employers, whose contributions to the special fund average 2.4 billion euros, or about $2.6 billion, a year.
The cause is a good one, but according to one labor union, the convoluted and oblique funding system is a sham.
The union objects not to the broader goal, but to the notion that people should be made to work without compensation. “Our principle is that all work deserves to be paid, whether it is an hour, a minute or a day,” he said.
The system was profoundly unjust at the start and has only become more so, Mr. Thouvenel said.
A checkout clerk at a supermarket sacrifices a day’s wages, but lawyers, doctors, farmers and parliamentary deputies are not required to contribute. Railroad workers were able to negotiate a “donation” of an extra 1 minute 52 seconds a day, rather than a full working day.
“It is an aberration that doesn’t correspond to reality,” Mr. Thouvenel said. “The system is too complex and not at all transparent.”
But this year, as French workers and families juggled their way through the Pentecost weekend, Mr. Thouvenel’s union was virtually the only one to call the “day of solidarity” into question.
“We are fighting on the principle that it is unjust,” he said, “and we will continue even if we are alone.”