Sharing part-time help

Joshua Jampol. Journalist. The Time

24 May 2003

Five years ago, French employers were granted the ability to share part-time workers, with a new type of contract of undetermined length.

The law, till then unknown to the Gallic labor code (there seems to have been no European precedent), allowed firms with little in common but their personnel problems to join forces. The groundbreaking deal let part-time staff who wished to work longer hours do so – only at other companies.

Part-time work in France isn’t well looked-on by unions, the civil service administration or the public. It is called petits boulots, or little jobs.

Yet today, groups exist across the nation which organize part-time staff sharing. In Lille one such organization unites 130 companies. According to Etienne Denis, president of the French Federation of Employer Groups, “the movement is becoming more and more significant”. His organization has 3,500 member businesses who share 5,000 salaried employees.

These groups have written charters with moral codes for their members, committing them to building long-lasting job opportunities and ways to develop competencies in employees. They work on a good-conduct policy. Since French employers get a 30-percent tax break for part-time hires, the government, in the early days of the law, didn’t want to give this candy to both firms sharing workers. So the companies themselves agreed that only the original employer would benefit.

Under the share scheme, most employees are hired for administrative duties (25 percent) or production (23 percent). Management-level positions only account for 7 percent.

Still, success of the initiative has been widespread. While businesses were at the origin of the more flexible law five years ago, demand today comes from the workers themselves, who understand the benefits, including potential stability and mobility, that it brings them on the job market. It’s the kind of deal that turns a little job into a real one.

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