France - 
Article published the Wednesday 20 October 2010 - Latest update : Friday 22 October 2010

Are the French a bunch of lazy slackers?

Youths clash with police during protests in Lyon, 19 October
Reuters/Robert Pratta

By Tony Cross

The French - if they’re not on strike, they’re taking long holidays or having extra days off thanks to the 35-hour week. That’s a widespread view, as can be seen from comments on RFI’s reports of the strikes against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension reforms. But do the statistics bear it out?

No-one could deny that France has a combative labour movement, especially when right-wing parties are in power and, as the unions see it, trying to take back gains won by years of struggle.


Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

And international media headlines often give the impression of a country wracked by industrial conflict, which must surely be bringing the economy to its knees.
So is France heading for ruin – a world champion in strikes and lazing around and a world loser in wealth production?
Here’s what the figures show:
Strikes: The world leader in days lost in strikes in 2009 was … Canada. Its score was 2.2 million, according to the UK journal The Economist. Next came South Africa with 1.5 million. France came third with 1.4 million. France comes top of the European league table for the period 2005-2009, according to the European Foundation for the improvement of Living and Working Conditions. But in 2008 its efforts were dwarfed by Denmark, thanks to a strike wave, one of whose demands was a 35-hour working week. The damage to the economy is not as high as might be expected, judging by statistics from 2005 when a three-week strike cut 0.05 of a point from the growth rate, according to the Finance Ministry.
Hours worked: French workers work an average of 1,453 hours a year, well below the OECD group of developed nations' average of just over 1,700 hours a year but above Germany and Norway (1,337), Sweden (1316) and the Netherlands (1309). South Koreans work the longest hours in the OECD at 2,390 per year.
Retirement: At present French women can retire at the same age as women in Italy, South Korea, Hungary, the UK, Greece and Poland but earlier than Turks and Czechs. Men have the lowest minimum retirement age in the OECD. The government's proposals will bring them in line with Czechs and Hungarians and raise the age that retirees can claim the full pension to 67, provided they have paid over 40 years of contributions.
GDP: France’s Gross Domestic Product has doubled in the last 20 years. It was over 2000 billion euros in 2009, according to the IMF and the World Bank. That puts it fifth in the world league table, behind the US, Japan, China and Germany and just ahead of the UK. Over the same period, there has been a 10 per cent shift of the share of GDP from salaries to profits.
Productivity: French workers’ productivity has risen five times since 1960. Although it has fallen slightly over the last two years thanks to the recession, it is expected to double again over the next 20 years. GDP per hour worked is lower than in the US and Ireland but higher than in many countries, including the UK, Germany and Japan.

Debt: France has the sixth highest public deficit in Europe in percentage terms, at 8.2 per cent. The US’s deficit reached 12.5 per cent in 2009. The debt of French households was 89.1 per cent of income in 2006, according to the OECD. In Britain and the United States that ratio stood at 168.5 percent and 139.7 percent respectively.

Unemployment: French unemployment stands at 10 per cent, the average for the eurozone. As in other industrialised countries, the figure has been pushed up by the recession but was already relatively high at 8.2 per cent in 2001. US unemployment stood at 9.6 per cent in June 2010.


Click here for RFI's "Hidden Paris" series. Part I - How a leafy Paris boulevard came to be named after a left-wing extremist


tags: GDP - Germany - Labour - Nicolas Sarkozy - South Korea - Strike - Trade unions - Unemployment - United Kingdom - United States
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(195) Réactions

When an American calls you

When an American calls you lazy, is just like an alchool addicted calls you "drunk"

Americans know how to eat work consume and nothing more. Just like a bunch of uneducated sheepy crowd living into Plato's cage...

Oooops! Did I hurt feelings??? Boo-hooo

American, ass kissing wage

American, ass kissing wage slaves criticizing the French for standing up to a ruling class that wants to squeeze them for everything they've got? Typical. Dear readers I'd like to introduce the Tea Party Patriots, or teabaggers, as they called themselves until they found out what the term really meant.

You're an idiot

Ruling class? You mean the class that WORKS, pays taxes, and supports idiots like you? You're a moron. And the tea party never called themselves teabaggers, idiot. It was the liberal media who decided to use that term. Again, you are a moron.

The French as Slackers?

I'm not much impressed by statistics. They can be used to place anyone or anything in either a good or bad light...i.e. Hitler made the trains run on time.

The reason for raising the retirement age is that at the current age, the government can't afford it. Joie de vivre, high taxes, social contract, & French culture notwithstanding, it all boils down to that.

Are the French lazy?

I agree that the pension regime in France is not sustainable in its present form but that is not the question being asked. The question is whether the French are inherently lazy and it is patently obvious that such an accusation is nonsense. To understand French attitudes and actions it is necessary to understand what they value in life. What may be suited to you or me may not be appreciated by a Frenchman. I think that they have a perfect right to defend their way of life even if, in this case, they are fighting a losing battle. In any event it is their own business and not ours.

French retirement

I am English and have a great love of France and its people. It seems to me that most contributors to this article do not understand the French way of life and what they value. The French pay high levels of tax and social security contributions and in return they expect (and get) good retirement and health care benefits. It is a form of social contract with the government. They are a cultural nation, not particularly materialistic and enjoy the finer things of life.
Whatever you may think of their actions they see themselves as defending a way of life they regard as hard-won and paid for. Who are we to deny them that? Accusations that the French are inherently lazy are just silly.
Americans have a totally different outlook and some would say it is over-materialistic and wasteful - if that is the case then that is their prerogative.
Incidentally, I do wonder why so many comments from a lot of American contributors to this discussion are so insulting, aggressive and ill-informed.

The article should have

The article should have explicitly said, the normal retirement age in france is 60 years while in most of the developed world it is at least 65 years.

Tthe french are not lazy slackers

France has been a country of culture and thinkers . It is a bastion of the western civilazation. Also the recent riots can be seen as a response of social and economic imbalances in the french society.The ever growing Muslim populaton in France represents a force that will compound with that society.Is France culture and society becoming more Muslim ? Is Muslim culture part of french culture? As an outsider that admires France these are some of the questions that come to mind when visiting areas of that beautiful country.

The French have a high

The French have a high respect for quality of life. They seem to understand that you are not given a job, but that you trade hours of your day to help society and should be fairly compensated. Kudos for them. I only wish that Americans would wake up to the double speak that is going on, but they are too busy watching reality TV shows. Thank these workers for not allowing the Unions to fade. I am so proud of the French.

Most of the above anti French Comments

The largest bank by capitalization is Societe Generalle. That is for starts. Airbus is primarily a French company and it proved that in the most recent defining showdown with the Germans, when the French computer programs and engineering approaches were adopted. I often travel from Paris to Brussels, first class in 1 hour fifteen minutes for about fifty dollars.. I was last seen at the Neurological Institute of Marseilles (dual citizenship), a gleaming vast complex near the center of the city, for five euro TOTAL. The three and a half hour appointment included three x-rays, an MRI and a consultation by no less than the department head. Wrap your minds around that. The largest engineering firm in the world (think channel tunnel) is French (Vinci SA). It by the way owns half the parking lots in the US. About 20% of the wind turbines in the US are being leased from Energies de France, and the same company runs the largest Nuclear Power Grid in the world that has NEVER had a single accident. On my last trip to Paris my sister bet me that we would see more than ten homeless people during our four day stay while driving all over Paris. She lost. The people are uniformly well clothed, calm, and formal. The women do not look like call girls and the young people have very little to do with the deplorable state that youth in this country present. You people should go to France, you should stay there for a month and then come back and see what it feels like when you land at JFK. THIRD WORLD. People shabbily dressed, confusion, noise, stench. Charles De Gaule Airport on the other hand has to be experienced to be believed, and such an elevating experience it is. You people just don't know what you are talking about. The French are the sort of people who save money under their mattresses, pass on the family home from generation to generation and were paying bills on a French internet in 1974 when we did not even have computers through a very simple system of dial coding on the telephones coupled with their television sets. You people are just plain ignorant. Why don't you go to your local bank, draw out whatever you have left and buy some derivatives and pretend that you are "doing" something while the "slaggard" French "Frogs" are just lying around living off the fat of a very well balanced, very efficient society powered by.....EDUCATION. And yes, if you tell them that you do not believe in evolution they will most certain reply, "you must be American". And as to the French being fops, they won the first world war. Wake up, six million of them died. And when it came time for the Brits to pony up in Normandy, they played the "Brit" card and ran and swam the channel to "Fortress Britain" leaving the totally betrayed French to fight the full might of the Panzer divisions pouring in through neutral Belgium and the Netherlands. Really, I may sound upset, but you people really have no sense of the world you are living in and as a consequence of your greed and ignorance you are delivering us to the hands of your bankers, the Chinese.