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French trade unions have signed an agreement with employers saying that they must switch off work phones and email outside of working hours.

The deal was agreed to protect employees in the digital and consultancy sector from being overworked.

The General Confederation of Managers said that ‘working hours’ would be set between 9am and 6pm and that communication outside of this period would only be allowed in “exceptional circumstances.”

France already has a 35-hour working week, which it adopted in 1998. This new deal seeks to enforce the French separation of work and leisure in the digital age.

Paul Sellers, policy adviser at the UK’s Trade Union Centre (TUC) , says the same problem exists in the UK. Many professionals are not being allowed to switch off, especially in the law, media, finance and local government sectors.

The Working Time Regulations were drawn up in the 1990s to protect employees from working more than 48 hours a week, but this was before mobile phones were in wide circulation and Mr Sellers says the rules have not caught up.

Critics says that it would be very difficult to enforce this kind of policy in the UK, due to there being a different work culture to France.

One option would be for companies to force their servers to stop sending emails 30 minutes after the end of an employee’s shift, only starting half an hour before they returned for their next.

Photo by Sean MacEntee