Let’s call time on French‑bashing

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Erroneous story about France 'banning' work emails after 6pm is just latest example of 'lazy' UK journalism about its neighbour across the Channel.

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The French are angry. Usually, they ignore what the perfidious British write about them. This time they are very angry. According to an absurd story going viral on the internet, French office workers have been given a legal right to ignore work emails and phone calls after 6pm, writes John Lichfield in The Independent.

There is no truth – not even much suspicion of truth – in this story. It began with a column in The Guardian, whose author has since admitted that she made a mistake. It was taken up, with further embellishments, insulting commentary and no fact-checking, by the Daily Mail. It has since spread rapidly online.

The Mail wrote: “Workers in Socialist France can now ignore telephone calls and emails from their bosses when they are at home. It is all part of a new legal agreement which confirms President François Hollande’s country as arguably the laziest in Europe… The law specifically makes it illegal for workers in the digital and consultancy sectors … to respond to emails or phone calls after 6pm.”

There is no such law. There is no new law at all. There is a convoluted agreement between bosses and unions, which affects 70,000 senior white-collar workers. It allows them to continue to work from home while respecting, in annual terms, the French 35-hour week and the European Union law on minimum rest periods.

I have read the text. There is nothing in the agreement which “specifically makes it illegal” to answer emails or empowers workers to “ignore telephone calls”. It suggest that employees can “disconnect electronic devices” during the EU-decreed rest periods of “11 consecutive hours per day and 35 consecutive hours per week”.

In other words, it allows 13-hour days. There is no mention whatsoever of a 6pm cut-off. Similar agreements already exist in Belgium – and even in hard-working Germany.

Perhaps we should paraphrase the Mail: “This episode is part of a pattern which confirms some British journalism as arguably the laziest in Europe – and the most gratuitously aggressive on anything remotely connected with Europe.”

Read more of this report from The Independent.

See more on the email 'ban' here.

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