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‘The French have it right on labour’ says TUC


As the French assume the EU Presidency for a period likely to be dominated by arguments about employment rights, a new TUC report, 'Answering the Flexibility Myth - why the French are right' says that the French government is right to reject the supposed merits of US-style flexible labour markets.

The argument that the US's strong jobs record and relatively high rates of unemployment in parts of the EU are due to the superiority of US style hire and fire employment policies "may be convenient for those who politically oppose employment rights or make their living from the short-termism built into the Anglo-Saxon model" but is not borne out by the facts. While the UK has performed well in the recent past, a longer term perspective shows European style social partnership economies often doing better.

The strong performance of the US has more to do with its wider economic policies. And while the UK has performed reasonably well in recent years, its long term performance is not so good and current low unemployment figures do not take into account high levels of social exclusion that are not found elsewhere in the EU.

According to the TUC, a detailed comparison between France and the UK finds that:

· The French have created more jobs than the UK over both a forty and ten year period.

· Workplace productivity is 20 per cent higher in France, and French workers have 40 per cent more capital behind them per hour worked;

· the "want work" rate - which takes into account all those who say they want a job - in the two economies in 1998 was similar at 13 per cent - ILO unemployment is twice as high in France, but this is offset by higher levels of hidden unemployment in Britain;

· Activity rates - the share of the working age population in work or seeking work - was higher in Britain, but this was mainly because French young people study while British young people work;

· Activity rates for prime age workers (ages 25 to 49) and for women with children under 14 were higher in France than Britain - the gap was very large for lone parents;

· Both labour markets have diverse and "flexible" employment patterns, but Britain has more permanent jobs and France has more full time jobs, especially for women;

· Women's employment accounts for 45 per cent of all those in work in both France and Britain - greater protection at work in France has not denied women employment opportunities compared with Britain;

· British workers worked about 12 per cent more hours on average per annum than French workers, and there were few very long hour jobs (over 46 hours a week) in the French labour market;

· Part time work in France involved more hours work, mainly because France has very few short hour part time jobs (less than 10 hours a week) and more longer hour part time jobs (30 hours or more a week);

· British workers are more likely to have to work unsocial hours, such as shifts, evening, Sunday and night work;

· France has a more equal labour market, and on average a higher standard of living - GDP per head is about 10 per cent higher in France than in Britain.

TUC General Secretary, John Monks, said: "France's economic record is easily as good as ours, and in some ways better. We can each learn from the other, with much positive experience from the New Deal from Britain but also tips on productivity, working shorter hours and employing lone parents from France.

"It's time to knock on the head any idea that only moving to a US style wild west capitalism is the only way to boost the economy. The experience of France and other European countries shows that prosperity can go hand in hand with decency.

"The French are right to argue that greater rights to information and consultation for people at work can help tame the growing unaccountable power of global corporations, without hitting jobs and living standards."


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