Resurrection of Whit Monday Public Holiday

The ‘day of solidarity’ for the elderly has proved to be not so solid, so the Government has decided to return to the traditional the Whitsun public holiday. For over 120 years, Whit Monday has been a public holiday in France, until 2004 when the Government of the then Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin decided that everyone should do an extra day’s unpaid work in support of elderly and disabled persons. The result of the day’s unpaid labour would be collected by the Government through a levy on employers, raising around €2 billion in revenues. The law was introduced following the heat wave of 2003, which caused the death of around 15,000 elderly people. Although the day was widely supported in its first year, things soon began to fall apart.

In particular, there was a great deal of resistance, and some strike action from some trade unions, who objected to the fact that only employees were expected to contribute towards the day of solidarity, and that not all of the proceeds actually went to the cause it was supposed to support.

They argued that the real gainers were employers, who ended up having to hand over to the Government less in contributions towards the day of solidarity than the savings they made by having staff do a day's unpaid labour As a result, the Government quickly conceded that the day of solidarity need not necessarily be taken on Whit Monday, but at any time during the year, or fractionalised throughout the year, provided this occurred by collective agreement in the workplace. Taking this lead, the French railways SNCF decided that employees should work precisely 1.82 minutes extra each day in support of the day of solidarity, and many other big brothers followed suit! Things came to a head when it was quickly realised that, although employees should work this day, in fact the schools were all on holiday, with the result that many parents were unable to make proper child care arrangements for their children. In addition, there was public service and transport chaos, as most were closed for the day.

Many local authorities in tourist areas also expressed alarm at the loss of revenues, for Whit Monday is traditionally a day of festivals around France, and the weekend an important holiday period for them.

Against the backdrop of complete chaos and a lot of agitation, the Government has now decided that, whilst the day of solidarity will remain, there should continue to be a public holiday on Whit Monday. Accordingly, the result is likely to be that the day will be fractionalised for most employees over the year, or employers will simply decide to pay the charge, but impose no changes in work practices. This year, Whit Monday falls on 12th May, and with 8th May (Victory Day) also a public holiday, most people in France will faire le pont and probably take a five day holiday Thursday through to Monday. You can learn more about French public holidays at French Public Holidays

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