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Should tax breaks on overtime be reversed?

By Eric Heyer

Among the savings plans announced on 24 August 2011 by French Prime Minister François Fillon figures a change to the system of tax reductions on overtime hours and their exemption from social contributions,[1] a scheme that has been in force in France since 1 October 2007. This provides an opportunity to take another look at some of the main conclusions of the work carried out by the OFCE (French version) on this subject.

1 – An article to be published soon in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy[2] explains how the impact of this scheme will differ depending on the position of the economy in the cycle at the time the measure is applied.

  • In a favourable economic climate, an increase in working hours prompted by lower labour costs and the elimination of payroll taxes would seem appropriate. The measure is of course not funded (the public deficit deteriorates), and financing it through higher levies would radically change its nature, even though this would not call into question its positive impact on employment and unemployment.
  • However, this measure is poorly suited to the kind of economic downturn that the French economy is going through today. In a situation of mass unemployment, an increase of 1% in working hours has a negative impact on employment (-58,000 jobs at 5 years and -87,000 at 10 years). The unemployment rate would increase slightly (0.2 point at 5 years, 0.3 point at 10 years). The measure would have a small impact on growth (0.2 point at 5 years and 0.3 point at 10 years) and is not funded: the deficit would deteriorate by 0.5 point at 5 years (0.4 point at 10 years).

2 – This corroborates the results of a recent study published in Economie et Statistique[3]. The authors examined data on 35 sectors of the French economy and estimated that a 1% increase in overtime would destroy about 6,500 jobs in the commercial sector (i.e., 0.04% of commercial jobs), three-quarters of which would be temporary jobs.

Thus, in a context of a severe economic crisis, it seems that an incentive to work longer hours would hurt employment, especially temporary employment.

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[1] The government decided to reintegrate overtime hours into the general schedule of tax reductions while maintaining specific advantages on taxes and social welfare charges. Concretely, this measure will not change anything for employees: net remuneration will not be reduced, and income tax will not be increased. As for employers, they will continue to benefit from exemptions on charges for declared overtime hours, but will see smaller breaks on charges on low wages. This will take effect next January 1st and, according to the government, will generate 600 million euros in revenue from additional social contributions.

[2] Heyer É. (2011), “The effectiveness of economic policy and position in the cycle: The case of tax reductions on overtime in France”, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, forthcoming.

[3] Cochard M., G. Cornilleau and É. Heyer (2011): “Les marchés du travail dans la crise”, Economie et Statistiques, no. 438-440, June.

 

 

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