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French Government Restored A Holiday

Published 6-May-2008. Changed 6-Feb-2009

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This illustration is based on artwork from ©iStockphoto.com/chuwy & ©iStockphoto.com/Matejay

The French government reinstated the Whit Monday holiday, which was on May 12 in 2008, while maintaining the Day of Solidarity. This move aimed to minimize public backlash against the Day of Solidarity, or La journée de solidarité, which was created to support the elderly and persons with disabilities.

Background

For more than a century, Whit Monday was a public holiday in France until 2004 when a previous French government decided that workers must do a day unpaid work. The proceeds from the day’s work went towards funds to care for elderly and disabled persons.

The law was introduced following a heat wave that was linked to the deaths of about 15,000 elderly people in the summer of 2003. Although the Day of Solidarity was widely supported in its first year, there was resistance from some trade unions who objected to the idea. They argued that the real gainers were employers who profited from unpaid labour while providing fewer contributions towards the cause.

Early in 2008 the French government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, drafted a new law that would allow for both the Day of Solidarity and the Whit Monday holiday. The Day of Solidarity would be transformed into a time of unpaid work, freely negotiated in the form of a day, week or even seven hours across the year. The bill aimed to ease the procedures for applying the Day of Solidarity by giving freedom to social partners within an organization or industry to determine the needs of the business activity.

Benefits of Keeping the Day of Solidarity

Revenue collected from the day would ensure the ongoing welfare of disabled persons and the elderly in need of health care and assistance. Minister of Labour, Industrial Relations, Family and Solidarity Xavier Bertrand said that the new law aimed to improve the care of elderly and disabled people, to respect freedom of choice of social partners, and to respect a principle of solidarity.

In 2007, more than two billion Euros were raised in favor of the National Solidarity Fund. The benefits of keeping the Day of Solidarity include: more nursing home places for the elderly; improved facilities and services for the elderly and people with disabilities; and more jobs, particularly in health care services.

Opposition

The Day of Solidarity still stands unpopular among some French citizens who are opposed to the idea of a day’s unpaid work. Some argued that the day, which replaced Whit Monday from 2005 to 2007, was viewed as overtime unpaid work for employees. Some also said that the day should have never replaced the Whit Monday holiday.

In 2006, the French government faced strong opposition on its attempts to ensure people give up a public holiday and work for nothing on the Day of Solidarity. Less than half the country was at work as millions of employees treated the day as a normal Pentecost or Whit Monday.

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