Timesizing News, 1999
[Commentary] ©2000-2001 Phil Hyde, The Timesizing Wire, Box 622, Cambridge MA 02140 USA (617) 623-8080
12/17/99 France: 35-hour workweek nears, by Suzanne Daley, NYT, A8.
The government moved a step closer to giving French workers one of the world's shortest workweeks. Seventeen months after adopting a law calling for a 35-hour workweek, it has adopted a second piece of legislation detailing how and when businesses are to make the transition.
[The age of more labor-saving technology than we can comprehend, and the "one of the world's shortest workweeks" is a louzy 35-hour workweek ("oh RADICAL!") that our so-called "modern" economists criticize as "uncompetitive," - and "champions of freedom" ignore despite its bestowal of the most basic freedom, free time? What a pathetic crew of masochistic hypocrites we are, so empty that we're terrified of free time, so insecure that we can't even share work?!! With this snail-like rate of real progress, we'll be in hell a lot longer than necessary, and single parents and their children will suffer unnecessarily all along the way.]
[For more on France, see 10/05/99, 6/15/99 below & on our regular goodnews page: 11/24/99, 11/23/99).]
11/11/99 A French paradox at work 35-hour week may turn out to be best for employers, by Suzanne Daley, NYT, C1.
[Of course! That's what we've always said. But let's see why the Times thinks so.]
PFASTATT, France - Last year, the Beyer family, which owns a small farm and fruit preserves plant here near the Swiss border, made a proposal to their 18 employees: Would they like a 35-hour workweek and continue to be paid for working 39 hours?
To no one's great surprise, the employees said yes.... Surprisingly, the Beyers ended up happy, too. [They now produce] 30% more than...last year with only two extra employees [i.e., 11% more staff].
The promise of 39 hours of pay for 35 hours of work...was aimed at creating as many as a million jobs in a country that has struggled with a double-digit rate of unemployment for years.
[Note that the French unemployment rate counts a lot more of the problem than the American one.]
But many experts think that this bold experiment - which many business leaders had warned would cripple France's economy - is not going to be a cure-all for the nearly three million unemployed. Instead, it could accomplish...a kind of housecleaning in the French workplace that will tear the cobwebs from French industry and lead to a more productive and flexible work force, as it did at Beyer.
[Right on. It won't cripple France's, or our, economy - it will actually achieve the kind of efficiency that our CEOs are trying to get by downsizing, and failing to get because of the massive anxiety and demoralization generated. But what then do we do about the unemployed???
[THAT'S why our Timesizing.com program relies on Walter Reuther's concept of "automatic adjustment of the workweek" against unemployment, instead of continuing our simplistic grasp for yet another permanently fixed workweek level. In other words, we just SLOWLY adjust the workweek downwards, even just an hour a year, until the unemployment rate responds.
[But will it ever respond? And if the answer is "Yes," how can we be so sure?
[Yes, because the implication of shortening the workweek to increase productivity leads to the absurd conclusion that a zero workweek yields infinite productivity. Obviously at some point, the lines on the graph cross, and cutting further into the workweek also cuts into productivity.
[The fact that the French have not reached this crossover point by cutting to 35 means that the whole industrialized world is paying HUGE social costs for keeping people spinning their wheels at 40+ hours a week during this highly technologized age. Let's just mention the biggest consideration. We have no time for our families. Result in America? School shootings and a record-breaking prison population, which we, the taxpayers, have to pay for - not to mention the increased risk all of us are taking on by keeping our whole society sleep-deprived and stressed out. Boy, are we being stupid, especially in the light of the fact that we nearly had a 30-hour workweek 66 years ago - when the Black-Connery 30-Hour Bill actually passed the U.S. Senate (April 6, 1933) but was blocked in the House by our "dear president" FDR. He took one look at it, screamed "Socialism!" and proceeded to jump into more socialism than you could shake a stick at - social security, minimum wage, workmen's comp, unemployment insurance, and a whole alphabet soup of job programs - CCC, WPA, TVA, NRA - none of which solved the Depression by half until the War came and did it for him.
[The 30-hour bill wasn't perfect. But at least we could have been tinkering in the right garage for the last 66 years instead of totally wasting our time with Keynesian socialism, tidying things up here while messing them up there. The point is, the timesizing approach of which the French 35-hr workweek and the Black-Connery 30-hr workweek are primitive examples, has the potential to take care of all our big current problems by itself - because by sharing the work, however few hrs/wk that comes down to, it makes it a lot easier for people to support themselves, and that makes the healthiest possible start on sharing the income and the wealth.]
[This German journalist apparently missed the article underneath this (10/05/99).]
10/12/99 The Italianization of Europe - Capitalists thrive under the nose of the nanny state, op ed by Josef Joffe (Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich), NYT, A31.
...While the [administration of French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has] privatized some state companies, they have also introduced a 35-hour workweek, which will not do wonders for French competitiveness....
[We dispute that. We're only talking about a decrement of 4 hours a week here (from 39 to 35), hardly radical when a 30-hour workweek bill sailed through the U.S. Senate by a vote of 53-30 fully sixty-six years ago (S.5267, April 6, 1933). Several American industries have been on 35-hour weeks now for decades and we haven't heard any complaints about competitiveness (e.g., colleges like Boston University in academe, and companies like Lotus Development in high tech,...). In fact, we've seen data on greater productivity from small reductions in the workweek - due probably to better rested, more motivated and prioritized employees. And the article below has the statement, "...It could accomplish...a kind of housecleaning in the French workplace that will tear the cobwebs from French industry and lead to a more productive and flexible work force...." That sounds more like it WILL "do wonders for French competitiveness," Herr Joffe. Maybe you're just jealous because you Germans have been talktalktalking about a 35-hour workweek for decades and despite your supposed German efficiency, you have failed to put your words into action. The French are ahead of us all. They've always known how to live, and here they are, giving us another lesson.]
[The good news - they're cutting the workweek to absorb their unemployed. The bad news - they're doing it wrong.]
10/05/99 French employers protest shortened workweek, AP via NYT, C4.
PARIS, Oct. 4 - Thousands of bosses gathered today in Paris to protest the French Government's move toward a shortened 35-hour workweek, holding their rally a day before lawmakers open debate on how to carry out the measure....
[So why are they evoking so much resistance and how could they do it better? - ]
[An interesting example of paysizing - for those who think the unusual never happens. This is a hybrid situation of cutting the bare minimum in a pinch, pay, instead of cutting the maximum, jobs, or the median, hours...]
8/17/99 World Airways to cut some workers' pay, Reuters via NYT, C4.
DULLES, Va., Aug. 16 - World Airways Inc. said today that it would cut some of its workers' pay and may offer them stock instead, as the airline faces the possibility that it may not make an interest payment on some bonds.... The company said those workers making more than $25,000 a year would take a 10% pay cut for the next 16 months.... World Airways, which leases passenger and cargo space to major international carriers, said the salary reductions would apply to management and nonmanagement personnel....
[Of course, we recommend that companies in trouble give their whole workforce, including CEOs, an hours cut, in compensation for a paycut (preferably graduated), but here's a company that wants to compensate for a paycut with stock (delayed gratification) instead of free time (immediate gratification). Hey, at least they're looking for a way to keep everyone employed, unlike most kamekazi top execs out there today!]
It was unclear how many employees were affected...or what savings the company expected from the cuts. A company spokesman did not return phone calls.
[Too bad we can't get more info on these most instructive experiments that are going on all over the economy, all of the time - like, so we can l-e-a-r-n.]
World Airways said it must decide with its financial adviser, the CIBC World Markets Corp., on whether to pay an interest payment on $43 million of 8% convertible debentures, due Aug. 26....
[CIBC? Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce? Hey, at least they've got advisers with some international perspective. Now if only Canada was modelling the timesizing solution instead of following along all of Big Brother's downsizing mistakes just like a little puppy dog.]
8/07/99 U.S. reported set to impose new limit on truckers' driving hours, AP via NYT, A9.
The Federal Highway Administration is expected to issue a rule this fall that would impose a new limit on the number of hours truckers can drive each day. The rule would require drivers to be off duty for at least 14 hours in every 24-hour period, according to people in the trucking industry who spoke on condition of anonymity....
[Why are they so scared?]
Gail Shibley, a spokeswoman for the highway agency, declined today [8/06] to discusss details, pending issuance of the rule. Under current rules, adopted in 1939, truckers are limited to 10 hours behind the wheel in one stretch. They then must stop driving for eight hours. After that, they can resume driving for up to 10 more hours. The highway agency, the industry officials said, contends that ordering truckers off the road for 14 hours in a 24-hour period will improve the chances that they get at least eight hours of sleep during their down time.
[Why would the nasty old Government be so horribly micromanaging and restrictive, sez you.]
Last year 5,302 people were killed in truck-related accidents on the nation's highways, according to preliminary figures from the National Highway Safety Administration.... More than 3% of the truck-related accidents were caused by drowsy truckers [and that's probably way low]....
[Great, says Kate, now all they have to do is enforce it. It's well known that many truckers already keep 2 sets of books for weigh stations - one for the company that tells their real hours so they can get paid in full, and another for regulators.]
The nation's largest truckers' group, the American Trucking Associations, questioned the highway agency's idea. The group sent a letter on Thursday asking for an explanation of the science behind the pending rule. The truckers' organization also said it was developing its own proposal, which, said a spokesman, Mike Russell...would focus less on the number of hours worked and more "on the number of hours of rest and the quality of the rest."
[Well, regulating time off and especially the quality of time off is a heck of a lot harder than regulating the quantity of time on the job.]
The highway agency's rule, when announced, "will be science-based" and grounded "on the reality of circadian rhythms and body science," said Ms. Shibley....
[Lord, there must a a HUGE body of data by now on high accident rates during overtime or even the high hours of straight time - or is it all hushed up by the trucking lobby? One critical article that made it into the major media was Bernard Gavzer's article "Is the Long Haul Too Long - Tired Truck Drivers May Be Hazardous to Your Health," p.12ff, 5/16/99 Parade Magazine (insert in Sunday papers, e.g., Boston Globe). And just two days atfer this 8/07 article, the front page (B1) of the 8/09 Boston Globe's Metro/Region section carried the story "Truck driver fatigue seen in plunge off Route 128 bridge."]
8/05/99 New rules in Britain will benefit parents, AP via NYT, A8.
LONDON, Aug. 4 - The Government announced today that it was increasing maternity and other parental leave to allow employees to spend more time with their children.
[The bad news is that it's a subsidy on population as the planetary population passes the 6-billion mark and the social unit shifts from the reproductive pair to the productive person. The good news is, we have more family time for more family values.]
The Trade and Industry Secretary, Stephen Byers, said a million parents would benefit from such measures as time off for emergencies like accidents at school. The program applies to both the private and public sectors.
The move will bring Britain into line with the rest of the European Union. Under the previous Conservative Government, Britain opted out of European social regulations.
[More "conservatives" who only talk the talk of family values.]
The new British measures, to take effect in December, will allow mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents to take up to 13 weeks of unpaid leave a year for the first five years of each child's life.
[So it's a clunky workyear regulation, instead of the flexible workweek adjustment. Plus it's erratically reproduction-related, instead of universal and standard, like the across-the-board workweek reduction in France where they're cutting to 35 hours a week in 2000. Imagine that. Here we are on the doorstep of the Third Millennium, and only one measly nation in this whole self-aggrandizing global economy, drowning in work-saving technology, can standardize a 35-hour workweek. Pathetic!] Maternity leave will rise from 14 weeks to 18, and women will qualify for it after a year with one company, instead of two years, as is now the case. Parents will also be entitled to time off to cope with "family emergencies" such as an illness or problems with baby sitters.
[Lord, what miserable nickel-and-diming! We don't need a hornet's nest of detailed parenting-tied regulations. We need a shorter workweek for everyone - else what's technology for?! It should be monthly-minutely-adjustable and automated to vary inversely with each economy's comprehensive unemployment rate, to cut the blindered self-congratulation and spread the work - not the bogus and strained and charitable job creation but the natural market-demanded work - to everyone.
[Where are the visionary CEOs of yesteryear - Henry Ford when he doubled his bottom wage to $5/day in 1914, Lord Leverhulme and W.K.Kellogg when they cut their company workweeks to 30 hours in 1920 and 1930? Mitch Kapor when he instituted a 35-hour workweek at Lotus in the 1980s, declared Friday afternoons partytime and lavished free juices and yoga on his employees? At least we still have Aaron Feuerstein, who saw his employees through the plant rebuilding after the fire at Malden Mills, John Tu and David Sun at Kingston Technologies who lavish giganto bonuses on their employees (5/20 story, and had the smarts to buy back majority control of their own stock, 7/15 story), and the folks at the working models we cite, of various forms of timesizing.]
[From shorter hours to fewer weeks - whatever - it's all timesizing.]
7/31/99 Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich., is shutting down an assembly plant in Wixom, Mich. for one week, NYT, B3.
...because of a shortage of parts for its new Lincoln LS sedan.
[Cutting worktime instead of workforce is re-invented in every downturn and recession by managers who value their employees and employees who value one another. Check out our case studies/working models- there might be a few more examples there.]
[New Englander explodes against today's long hours - ]
7/12/99 We're running out of time for ourselves, by Christopher Bull of Worcester, Mass., Letter to Editor of Bos Globe, A10, flagged by Andrew Jantz of Arlingon MA.
In your article on the long hours many people are now finding themselves working ("Many shifts in modern workweek," Page 1, [see 7/06 below]), you neglected to mention the toll these hectic schedules can take on us as citizens.
After working a 10-, 12-, or 14-hour day, what chance do we have of taking an active part in our schools, communities, and governments? How alert are will we be to biases in easily consumed "news" from television and glossy weeklies? Indeed, how well equipped will we be to try to reclaim our lives for ourselves and our loved ones? And even if we've been well compensated, what good is the money without the time to enjoy it?
Even a "leisurely" 40-hour workweek leaves time for little besides decompression and the minimum maintenance of our relationships and homes.
[Boy, sentiments like this have been expressed for generations, and we still haven't made the workweek adjust automatically as technology improves, à la Timesizing.]
[Note that the Globe frontpage article on the workweek is strictly "from cosmetics."]
7/06 Many shifts in modern workweek - 24-7 economy is reshaping employee schedules, by Diane Lewis, Bos Globe, frontpage.
[Nothing in this long article relates to the actual reduction of a maximum workweek, so despite the hopeful sound of the headline, it's merely about rejuggling the 40-hour workweek plus overtime for the hardly-news 24-hour, 7-day operation of many businesses. Compare the hopeful sounding "Four Day Workweek" in e.g., the book title by Riva Poor in the 1970s, which turns out to mean merely four 10-hour days, i.e., the old 40-hour workweek repackaged - yawn.]
6/27/99 Sharing a job makes life manageable, they say - 'I was having to budget time to buy a gallon of milk.... We wanted to fight for balance.' Shelley Murray, BankBoston VP, by Sherwood Ross, Bos Globe, G4.
"We are two dynamic professionals at BankBoston with 35 years of combined experience...." The Sept. 26, 1997 letter explained that the two experienced branch managers sought "a combined position" that could enable them to "add significant value to the corporation."... No ranking BankBoston executives ever before had attempted job sharing, but Cindy Cunningham and buddy Shelley Murray gambled that the times were changing, and they were right.
The two vice presidents, both married with children, each had been putting in work weeks of more than 50 hours and, as Murray put it: "...We didn't want to leave our personal lives behind...."
The initial reaction to their letter was mixed.... Within a few months though, the two executives were promoted to vice president for global foreign exchange, a key post that generates about one-third of the bank's foreign exchange revenue. They split the 50-hour-per-week job, taking turns in the office, except for Tuesday mornings, when they schedule meetings that both attend and "strategize for the coming week," Cunningham said. However, the partner who is at home is available by phone, fax and e-mail and will come in if there's and emergency.... "We are showing that 'seat time' (= 'face time') is not needed," Murray added.... The job-sharers insist that when they are in the office, they are "on the ball" at all times. We don't do anything personal, and you have us 100%," Murray said. As their new job is more challenging, she said, "We are more passionate about it."
What's more, since it involved a promotion, both women are jointly earning more money today working fewer hours than they made toiling as branch managers.
[So much for the common fear that working less means earning less, and the common illusion that working more means earning more. At sweatshops the world over, working more means earning less.]
And the job comes with full benefits too.
[And why not? "Two heads are better than one" and society gets more more family values out of these two working mothers because they've got some actual family TIME at last! Kudos to BankBoston for putting CEO money where their mouth is - on family TIME for family values.]
One advantage of the shared post is that it eliminates battling traffic two days a week between their suburban homes and Boston, giving each three extra hours/wk of family time. "The impact at home has been tremendous," Cunningham said. "My children are at the ages [that are] difficult to manage when you're working full time." "What's more..." she now has time to "give back to my community."
As for Murray, she how attends her son's soccer and baseball games, and her husband "sees me as more relaxed."
Reflecting on job-sharing, Cunningham said, "It's more acceptable for women to do it, usually for raising children. But our thought is that anyone should be able to do this for any reason, like studying art history," she said. "If it works for the individual and it works or the business, there's no reason why it shouldn't be available to anyone."
Murray and Cunningham are so convinced that they're writing a book about it.
[Bottom line - this creates two jobs where before there was just one - two sane-hours jobs where before there was just one family-punishing, technology-blunting ticket to karoshi (Japanese "death due to overwork") Why bother with technology if it's not making life easier? And clearly the way we've got life set up with our fixed-workweek economics, it's not. Plaudits to these two parents - their jobsharing is a transitionary step to Timesizing.]
6/15/99 In France, working long hours becomes a crime - Inspectors enforce shorter workweek, by David Woodruff, Wall Street Journal, A15.
...At a time when employees around the globe toil more and more, France is cutting the legal workweek to 35 hours from 39, even for white-collar staff. And after decades of ignoring the working habits of this workoholic group of employees...labor inspectors are clamping down on companies where managers, engineers and researchers burn the midnight oil.
And they mean business. Violators are being dragged into court. Ask Bernard Rocquemont, former president of Thomson's radar division. At a ruling Monday [6/14] he faces a 100,000...franc ($16,000) fine if convicted of allowing 1,700 salaried employees to work a total of 8,000 hours of illegal overtime.
With top executives exposed to potential jail terms of as much as two years for some violations, French companies are shooing employees out the door on time.... By cutting the workweek for everyone but senior executives, France's left-wing government, supported by most trade unions, hopes to reduce France's 11% unemployment rate....
[What this reporter doesn't mention is that in 1995-96, France's right-wing government had the same hopes and the same approach, except on a voluntary company-by-company basis incentivated by unemployment insurance premium cuts of up to 15% for seven years. The plan was called the Robien Law after its draftor, and the party backing it was the right-of-center UDF (Union Democratique Francaise). Over 100 companies took advantage of it in its first 6 months, and the following left-wing government would have been smart to continue it.]
"This has become unreal," says Paul Calandra, human-resources director at Thomson-CSF.... "Everyone has the right to find a balance between their professional and personal lives...."
[Not when their "balance" is disemploying other people - except, under Timesizing, if they are willing to shift gears after, e.g., 35 hours and reinvest overtime wages (or prorated salary) in training and hiring, i.e., switch from work absorption to job creation.
As he left work one recent Friday, Dominique Moy, a technician and union activist, swiped his magnetically striped card through a blue terminal on the wall. At the top of a small display, yellow figures flashed, indicating that he had worked 39 hours that week. Below, another showed that he had built a credit of 11 hours that needed to be taken as time off.
The maximum allowable credit is 15 hours. Company officials contact workers who overstep that limit and help them draw up a plan to reduce the backlog. In his office in Elancourt, Mr. Moy pulls out a recent monthly status report that shows a handful of flagrant workaholics with a credit of 60 hours or more. "Things have changed a lot around here in a year," he says. "People agree to work longer hours when there's a lot to do. But now they recoup the time afterward."
Some workers are delighted. With the new time clocks, one...software engineer in Elancourt discovered she routinely put in five hours too many each week. She now keeps golf clubs in the trunk of her car and slips out once or twice a week to play a few practice holes at a nearby course, either for two hours at lunchtime or by leaving at 4 p.m....
But it has also created headaches for companies and workers as they try to juggle the demands of work with the directive to cut back hours. It is mission impossible for people working to meet an important deadline, or cooperating with colleagues in a distant time zone.
[But then, if that's not management, what is? - Drawing lines, establishing limits, setting priorities. And these same "headaches" existed when the workweek was seven 12-hour days "at the most." France would get less resistance on this maximum workweek if it was determined by unemployment instead of government "dart throwing."]
[Italy's workforce smarter than us.]
5/14/99 Union workers stage rally in Rome, AP via AOL News, 11:48:17 EDT.
ROME - Tens of thousands of metalworkers, taking special trains and buses, converged on the capital today for a mass rally to push demands for shorter hours and more pay. The protest comes amid warnings that Italy's economy is heading toward a recession, and industrialists are saying they have to hang tough to keep the country competitive on the world market.
[The usual B.S. - CEOs think everyone else but them should be in a race to the bottom, everyone else should tighten their belts, everyone else should see things "getting worse before they get better" (but they never get better).]
Union leaders predicted that some 150,000 people were coming to the rally. Police said they had no immediate crowd estimate.
Union leader Pietro Larizza called on the government to mediate the dispute. Another leader, Sergio Cofferati, urged the government to press management to reduce workers' hours. Workers want about $45 more a month in the upcoming two-year contract; employers are offering no more than about $38 a month. [Workers] also want shorter shifts for people who work nights, among other demands.
Numbering some 1.7 million, metalworkers make up Italy's largest category of unionized labor. Many of them work for the country's largest private-sector employer, the automaker Fiat. Two years ago, government intervention helped workers gain a new contract including pay raises. That contract expired on Dec. 31.
5/14/99 Court rules Microsoft 'permatemps' eligible for stock benefits, Reuters via Bos Globe, E2.
[Basically, we need to flex up our worktime and that means reducing the benefit penalties for 'part' time and 'temporary'. So this is a Good Thing.]
4/30/99 Bayou Steel Corp. reports second quarter earnings, Business Wire via AOL News, 07:19 EDT.
LA PLACE, La. - ...Unprecedented levels of steel imports resulted in very competitive conditions even though demand for structural and merchant bar products remained good in North America.... Stated President and COO Jerry Pitts, "As a direct result of the inventory overhang brought on by the cheap imports, shipments for the quarter and year to date were negatively impacted and our average selling price in March was nearly $50 per ton lower than a year ago.... Because our operators continued to set productivity records and scrap costs remained low, we were in a position to minimize the adverse impact of these market forces and still turn a profit."
"Steel service centers, Bayou's primary customers, reduced orders from domestic mills.... The increased availability of product from domestic mills brought on by foreign dumping of steel was a substantial factor," Pitts said. The Company's shipments were under that of the prior year three and six month periods by 13% and 19%, respectively. "As a result...finished product inventory increased to an unacceptable level. To remedy this, we have temporarily shifted from a seven-day work week to five days at our Tennessee and Louisiana rolling mills. We have successfully implemented this short-term operating mode without a single lay off by displacing contractors. During its first month of reduced operations, the Tennessee facility set a new productivity record," Pitts reported....
[Wake up, conventional downsizing CEOs! Bayou Steel has fostered real team spirit and productivity-boosting morale by cutting the workweek instead of the workforce - in other words, timesizing - a real slice of the future! (On the other hand, looks like the steel industry is getting back to their bad old ways of 7-day workweeks. They were the last industry in America to abandon the 84-hour workweek = seven 12-hour days! Herbert Hoover, as Harding's Secretary of Commerce, personally embarrassed Judge Gary and the other steel magnates into cutting down to a 48-hour week in 1923.]
[A taste of the future - Timesizing at work - ]
4/16/99 [Euro]Disneyland unions agree on workweek, AP via AOL News, 10:59:05 EDT.
PARIS - ...Four of the seven unions representing workers at the Disneyland Paris theme park west of the capital agreed Thursday to reduce their hours from 39 to 35, part of a government plan to cut the nation's high jobless rate. Salaries will remain the same.... The agreement, which concerns some 10,000 park employees, is scheduled to take effect on June 6. Under the new agreement, some part-time workers will be offered full-time positions. Park management said the shorter work week will create 600 new jobs by May 2000.
The law, passed last May by the Socialist government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, calls for businesses with more than 20 employees to institute the 35-hour workweek by Jan. 1, 2000. Smaller companies have two more years to comply. Disneyland will benefit from tax cuts and other incentives offered to businesses that act before the deadline.
1/15/1999 French conflict over hours, UPI Jan.14/99 via swt-digest via Eugene Coyle.
PARIS...- With the legal workweek in France soon to be 35 hours, a Versailles court case beginning in March has suddenly taken on significance. At issue is the French job inspectorate, whose huge staff is using a law originally framed to close sweatshops employing illegal workers to crack down on workaholics.
For several months, France has been enforcing the law against executives who work beyond the legal weekly limit of 39 hours, not including overtime. In the new era of the single European currency and the burgeoning global economy, the French enforcement drive is being challenged.
The Versailles case involves the company Thomson Radars and its director, Bernard Rocquemont, who faces prosecution after inspectors found he and senior employees working longer than legally allowed. Rocquemont and his colleagues are charged with doing "clandestine work" at the company's electronics factory in Elancourt, just outside Paris. If found guilty, Rocquemont faces a $34,000 fine and a possible prison sentence. Inspectors who staked out the factory claim 1,300 engineers and managers posted an average 46-hour work week. None received overtime pay.
The case has provoked widespread publicity, since it clashes with the traditional view that France's skilled, salaried professionals are exempt from laws that apply to factory workers and other low-wage earners.
[Was this the origin of the idea that "I'm super-busy, therefore I'm important"? - the illusion of indispensibility, the notion that I'm needed?]
Last year, the courts decreed work-limit laws apply to all. That's when the executive suite inspections started.
Director Claude-Emmanuel Triomphe of the regional labor inspection office in Paris says: "When we talk to these executives privately, they tell us they are glad not to have to work hard and long any longer."
Paul-Louis Betrois, who heads his own mid-size electronics firm, Basictel in Paris, disagrees. He says: "Look, in this day of the global economy and faster, quicker communications, billing, investment and filling orders, if you don't work long hours, you're dead. And that is what enforcement of the new law is going to do. It is going to kill us."
[What's the connection between technology getting faster and quicker and humans supposedly having to long hours? On the contrary, the whole point of getting technology that works 24/7 is so that humans DON'T have to work 24/7. Paul-Louis Betrois is missing a chip on his motherboard. He's still in an 18th-century mindset where you have to work hard to get ahead. He should long since have started working smart, not hard. The whole point of getting technology to work 24/7 is so that we humans don't have to. Betrois (bête roi?) and many other people today have got themselves into the death spiral of trying to compete with robots in long hours. They can never win, because all robots need ever 24 hours is a couple of drops of oil, while Betrois is going to discover as his health, his life and his family deteriorate, he needed a lot more than 24/7 nonstop work and his own delusions of self-importance.]
News reports depict zealous government inspectors pursuing overworked executives, whose faces are blurred as they talk on camera about smuggling their laptop computers home to finish the job, or confess to sneaking around with mobile phones to take care of business. Inspectors count cars in parking lots after business hours, scrutinize office entry and computer records, and grill employees about their schedules.
[France would find this a lot easier if they gave people three choices when they hit the top of the workweek, whether it's 39 or 35-hours-a-week in length -
1/09/1999 Double parked, The Economist magazine, 58-59.
SAO PAULO - Things are not getting any better for foreign car makers who piled into Brazil.... As Brazil has imposed punitive interest rates to defend its currency since late 1997, sales of cars have plunged by 25% to 1.5m, with no recovery in sight.... A year ago, Fiat employed 24,000 people at its big factory in Minas Gerais state. Now that figure is down to 16,000.... Last month [Volkswagen's Ancieta factory with nearly 20,000 workers] signed a union agreement delivering a four-day week and pay cuts. Along with voluntary redundancies, this should cut the firm's wage bill by roughly 15%. In return, the firm will invest $600m to build the successor to its Polo small car.
[ Timesizing, not downsizing!]