One of the most interesting and often entertaining aspects of the British press is the sheer glee with which they like to pounce on anything that resembles French silliness.
During the week, a story about the French trying to apply stricter rules to hours being worked was exploded by a lot of what the French call la presse anglo-saxonne and made to look as if French workers were no longer allowed to send work emails after 6pm.
The tittering across the fawning English-speaking world got to such levels that new Canadian-born Secretary of State for Digital Technology Axelle Lemaire (above) was moved to tweet in English: “Nop! (sic) France did not make it illegal to answer emails after 6pm…!”
It all started last Wednesday with an article by columnist Lucy Mangan in British daily The Guardian, stating that “the French have made working after 6pm illegal… Après noticing that the ability of bosses to invade their employees’ home lives via smartphone at any heure of the day or night was enabling real work hours to extend further and further beyond the 35-hour week the country famously introduced in 1999, workers’ unions have been fighting back.”
What gave credence to that article was one that appeared in Les Echos that talked about the signing of an amendment to an agreement between two unions and Syntec – the engineering employers’ union. This new text stipulates “the obligation of disconnection of distant communication devices” in order to respect the minimum lengths of down time, in accordance with French law.
The Guardian, along with The Independent, the Daily Mail and other British media outlets, deduced from this that it was henceforth forbidden by digi-tech companies to send or reply to professional emails outside of work hours. However, all of that was false, as Le Monde and Slate demonstrated subsequently.
It all relates to an agreement concerning a specific grouping of about 250,000 people. These are salaried workers who are not subject to the legal maximum work hours (which are 10 hours per day, 35 hours per week). In other words, they can be led to work 13 hours a day and not finish their working day at 6pm.
But it was seemingly too late for the truth to get in the way of a good old-fashioned English chuckle at the barmy ways of their French neighbours, prompting Ms Lemaire to Tweet her curt declaration.