Now that May is over, France can get back to work


We’ve always known French workers get more holidays than we do, and as reported in the New York Times at the weekend, not since 1972 have the French been able to enjoy so much time off in one month.

Thanks to the peculiarities of a lunar calendar that dictates the timing of important Christian days, there were four holidays and five weekends, leaving 17 working days.

But, as reported, 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 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 bin men, construction workers, lorry drivers and supermarket clerks; and teachers and the wider public sector 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 labour,” and by 2008 Pentecost Monday was back on the holiday calendar — sort of. But the “day of solidarity” survived.

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