Work more to save jobs, HP tells French workers

Work longer hours to save jobs: that’s the deal Patrick Starck, the chief executive officer of the French subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard Co. is offering workers there. He’s surfing a wave of criticism of the country’s 35-hour working week rule, which stands accused of imposing a “competitive disadvantage” on French industry.

By linking working hours to the job cuts threatened by the company’s restructuring plan, Starck is hinting at a way of implementing the plan that is better for the workers.

Starck echoed comments by the president of the French Confederation of Business Enterprises, who spoke of a “link of cause and effect” between an agreement with staff to reduce working hours signed in 1999, and the 1,240 layoffs HP plans in France.

“By renegotiating the [working hours] agreement, we may even be able to create more jobs. … I’m talking about a significant number of jobs, not just tens of jobs,” Starck said.

HP hasn’t changed the number of jobs it plans to cut in France, despite encouraging signals from the European head, Francesco Serafini, who indicated in September that the number could be reduced. Against this background, Starck hopes to open discussions with staff by pressuring them over the 35-hour rule.

Staff representatives are unimpressed. Starck’s proposal is “a rather cavalier way to participate in a constructive social dialog,” according to Christophe Hagenmuller, a spokesman for the trade union CFE-CGC. “If they’re asking us to work longer hours, that means there’s work to be done. So why lay people off?” he asked.

The union official doesn’t rule out a renegotiation of the 1999 working hours agreement. “We said we are prepared to reconsider everything to reduce the percentage of layoffs below 15 per cent. And that includes the 35-hour week.”

On Oct. 6, Hagenmuller met Mark Hurd, the head of HP. “I explained that the French employees are nothing like their stereotypes, and that 85 per cent of them are paid a fixed rate per day, [however many hours they work]. Hurd seemed to understand this. He told us that the French market is very important and that he would do what he could to reduce the impact of the layoffs.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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