La Journée De Solidarité: French National Day Of Solidar

In August of 2003, a scorching heat wave swept across Europe, claiming almost 15,000 lives in France alone. Most of the victims were elderly people and some with disabilities. Responding to this momentous tragic event, the French government, by way of a reform, made a commitment to raise money to financially support the elderly and persons with disabilities.

To support this drive, the government made an additional annual allocation of two billion euros for the benefit of the elderly and disabled through the Caisse Nationale de Solidarité Pour l’Autonomie (National Solidarity Fund for Autonomy). This is the first such reform in France, which was presented on November 6, 2003, that is funded not through increased taxes but through the concept of “workers solidarity”.

By this concept, the government has urged the citizens of France, specifically civil servants and employees, to show their support for the reform by rendering an extra day of service without pay. This extra day is referred to as “La Journée De Solidarité” (National Day of Solidarity). The wages that are supposed to be paid to workers on this day will instead be collected and put into the fund.

The selection of the date of the French National Day of Solidarity went through a process that considered the diverse regional and economic conditions of the country. This was necessary to ensure broad participation among workers in both the public and private sectors, thus giving justice to the term “solidarity”.

It was eventually decided that the French National Day of Solidarity be held on the same day as that of one of France’s public holidays – Whit Monday, or the day after Pentecost. This effectively cancelled Whit Monday’s being a public holiday (observed as such for more than a hundred years) and the day was converted into the rather odd status of a “working holiday”.

For the elderly, the significance of this day is that their home life will be improved, retirement homes will be modernized, and medical care will be guaranteed. All these are possible through the more than 1 billion euros expected to be generated from this single day annually.

A separate fund of 800 million euros a year, likewise expected to be generated from the one-day “event”, will be used to aid persons with disabilities and enable them cope with extra expenses as a consequence of their condition.

In 2008, Whit Monday was restored as a public holiday after workers across the country staged a series of demonstrations in protest of the concept by which the French National Day of Solidarity was established (not the purpose for which it was created). Specifically, workers were against the idea of working for a day without being paid for it.

To maintain its commitment of supporting the elderly and the disabled, the French government turned to other fiscal measures. Also, an agreement was reached between and among the government, employers, and employees, significantly modifying the original concept of the reform. Under the agreement, the equivalent of 7 hours of unpaid work can be spread over a period of one week, a month, or even a year.

Today, France celebrates La Journée De Solidarité simultaneous with its observance of Whit Monday, with the day being a public holiday.

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