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Manuel Dassoneville runs a small company employing 20 people in south Lille, France. He used to employ 19 but has had to take on a student, to deal with paperwork associated with the 35-hour week.

Dassoneville is of course furious at the added cost.

But he is not like your typical UK businessman. He introduced the 35-hour week early to help his staff. What he is really furious about is that the new government has eased the rules associated with the shorter working week, meaning he has been more generous to his workers than necessary; giving his rivals, who delayed introducing the new rules, a distinct advantage.

But in other respects he is like any other employer. He wants the government to get off his back. ‘I think the government doesn’t understand the problems of little companies,’ he told me. ‘The only solution is for us to work a little bit more and a little bit more and tomorrow a little bit more too.’

But the government, even if it wanted to help Dassoneville, has a problem.

Even with a massive majority it can’t force through tough legislation.

The French have a habit of taking to the streets if they aren’t happy – a previous government was brought to its knees by direct action. And the 35-hour week is very popular with the average French voter.

The 35-hour week was supposed to increase employment. Larger companies can afford to take on staff but for Dassoneville, it isn’t so easy. He wants more help from the government but this week’s budget was a balancing act between more spending on defence and some cuts in personal taxes.

The budget was only possible because Brussels has given France another two years to balance its books. Grand reforms weren’t there and for Dassoneville, seeing is believing.

  • Jonty Bloom, a business news reporter at the BBC.

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