Over the last two decades, the percentage of the French labor force engaged in low-wage work has increased significantly -- from 12 percent in 1984 to 17.7 percent in 2002. In general, low-wage employment in France does not seem to be a stepping-stone towards better paying jobs. Nevertheless, recent legislative efforts in France have targeted high unemployment, not low-wage work. The official French workweek has been reduced to 35 hours in an effort to stem unemployment, but this has led to many unintended negative consequences. It has cut off the possibility of overtime pay for needy workers, has expanded the use of fixed-term contracts and temporary work arrangements that can skirt minimum wage laws, and has led many firms to freeze hiring and intensify work conditions for low-wage occupations.
With support from the Foundation, a team of French researchers investigated the historical, systemic, and institutional dimensions of low-wage work in five industries in France: hospitals, hotels, food processing plants, call centers, and retail stores. They examined and contrasted firms of different sizes (e.g. privately owned hotels versus large chains) and different markets (e.g. discount versus gourmet grocers) to see if firm-characteristics influence work conditions for low-wage workers.