Fête du Travail Is Labor Day In France

May 1 is International Workers’ Day, or simply Labor Day, in many countries around the world. In France, the day is referred to as “Fête du Travail”. The day is celebrated with parades and demonstrations organized by trade unions and other similar workers’ organizations. These moves are aimed at campaigning for the rights of workers and airing their demands, which are directed at businesses and concerned government agencies.

Fête du Travail is a public holiday in France. Most businesses, shops, and stores are closed on this day; so are banks and post offices. Schedules of public transport service are different on this day from those of the regular working days of the week. This is because of the disruptions to traffic that the said demonstrations and parades are expected to cause.

On April 23, 1919, France officially adopted the 8-hour working day. That same year, May 1 became a public holiday in that country. But it was almost 30 years later when this day was started to be used as an occasion for celebrating and campaigning for the rights of workers. The yearly campaigns led to several changes in labor rules and laws.

Some of the conditions and regulations included in the present French labor laws are as follows:

• The levels of “salaire” (salary) are fixed by mutual agreement between employer and employee. The salary of an employee indicated in the contract is usually expressed in annual gross figure.

• The Salaire Minimum Interprofessionnel de Croissance (SMIC) guarantees minimum hourly wage. This means that the wage payment to an employee should not go below the minimum level as provided for in the SMIC.

• “Temps de travail” (legal working hours) per week is fixed at thirty-five hours. This rule, however, does not apply to limited liability company managers, executives, sales representatives, domestic staff, and other employees with special working conditions.

• Employees are entitled to five weeks of paid vacation every year. The five weeks are distributed at two and a half days for every month worked.

• “Congé de maternité” (maternity leave) entitles every mother to no less than 16 weeks of paid leave. “Congé de paternité” (paternity leave), on the other hand, provides a new father 11 days of paid leave, taken consecutively within 4 months of the birth.

It is interesting to note that the lily of the valley is the symbol the French used for this occasion. Bouquets of this flower are traditionally given to loved ones during this day. This tradition is very much alive particularly in the administrative region of Île-de-France.

History has it that King Charles IX of France was gifted with lily of the valley flowers on May 1, 1561. The king appreciated the present so much. Every year on May 1 from then on, he gave the same flowers to every lady of his court.

Today, French families living in country areas wake up very early in the morning of May 1 each year to go into the woods and pick lily of the valley flowers. Workers and students in urban areas sell bouquets of the flower door-to-door or on the streets to raise funds for labor organizations.

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