France is the champion of Europe for bunking off work thanks to legal protections which ensure workers still get paid even after six months, according to a Saratoga and Price Waterhouse Coopers survey of 14,000 companies.
But it’s not just the legal safeguards that keep people away from their desks. French people are fed up with working. You see them every day: the grumpy lady at the post-office counter, the rude bank clerk, the aggressive waitress. Strolling past a market stall in Cannes last weekend I saw a rack of t-shirts with slogans such as ‘work sucks’ or ‘the best thing about my week is the weekend.’
It reminded me of Britain in the early 1980s when Garfield cartoons proclaiming ‘I hate Monday’ decorated the walls of many workplaces. Although people still prefer Fridays, the Brit attitude towards work has become less hostile. The stand-off between companies and their employees is less about workers-vs-bosses and more about ensuring that managers are doing their job properly. People take some pride if not in what they do, then at least in providing for themselves and their family.
Business is a almost dirty word in France. The economy in the minds of many French people is a sort of pump operated out of the finance ministry in Bercy. The government just needs to adjust the settings to create jobs and money. Problem is, they haven’t been getting the settings right for quite some time.
It is workers and not politicians that create the wealth of a nation and the government should give credit back to its citizens. When Socialist grandees like Laurent Fabius say factory workers should be allowed to retire early because they have such a shitty job, they are stealing their self-worth. Fabius might consider working in a factory beneath him, but it ain’t so bad. For some people, not relying on state handouts is a source of pride and they enjoy the banter of the workplace.
Give people back pride in their work and they might start showing up more.