Wednesday, October 26, 2005

French madness

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent editorial (requires subs.) on Electricité de France, the French state-owned electricity utility (2004 revenues: €46.9 bil), and the frustratingly dishonest approach French unions have to business:
In the case of EdF, let's review the perks: employment for life, free health insurance, "special" retirement benefits (at 55 years of age with a pension much higher than a private-sector employee). EdF's 110,000 French employees work a 32-hour work week, a 1,440-hour work year, enjoy many extra vacation days (for example three days for the death of a in-law), and 20% discounts on vacation plans with the company workers committee (CCAS). Half the meals are paid for. They also get a 10% discount on gas and electricity bills, tax rebates and a starting salary 36% higher than the minimum wage that -- with promotions based on seniority -- leaves them earning more than peers in the private sector. On top of that, consider the €416 million annual budget of the CCAS, which goes, in part, to bankroll the CGT labor union and the French Communist Party.
Of course everyone in France pays for electricity, including minimum-wage earners, the unemployed and welfare recipients. Indeed, they pay the full fare, even though the average EdF employee earns significantly more than the French average -- about €5,334 per month compared to €3,000. So it is especially rich -- we can even say scandalous -- that the CGT, on behalf of EdF workers, every few weeks calls its people onto the streets against any plans to change this cozy arrangement using the rhetoric of social welfare and public service. For in reality, EdF symbolizes France's upside-down social welfare system: The poor pay for the better off.
What I find totally baffling is that such protests not only get so much attention but significantly influence public policy.

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