aof documents

Documents relative to the implementation of the forty-hour work week (1914-1938)
in AOF K 167 (26)

© 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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Gouverneur Général de l'AOF to Ministre des Colonies, "Projet de décret réglementant les conditions du repos hebdomadaire en AOF" n°486 (Dakar, March 3, 1914)

Since Sunday was not a religious day for the Muslims, the Gouverneur Général de l'AOF wanted to modify the French law requiring a day of rest on Sunday, and allow employers to decide when their employees could have off. In this way, businesses that needed to operate on Sundays could operate.

Journal Officiel de l'AOF, n°455 (May 24, 1919), page 34

The French "loi de 23 Mai 1919" limited the work week to six 8-hour days. On May 16, 1919, the law became applicable in the AOF, thanks to the action of Gouverneur Général de l'AOF Angoulvant.

Journal Officiel de la République Française, n°149 (June 26, 1936), pages 6669-6670

This was the official notice of the law instituting the 40-hour week ("Loi instituant la semaine de quarante heures dans les établissements industriels et commerciaux et fixant la durée du travail dans les mines souterraines").

President Cresson, Association Amicale et Professionelle des Agents du Chemin de Fer de Dakar au Niger to Directeur de Chemin de Fer Dakar-Niger,
letter n°373 (Thiès, July 24, 1936)

In an article in "Le Périscope Africain" on July 11, 1936, the Gouverneur Général de l'AOF explained why the "loi sur la journée de huit heures" (eight-hour day law) of May 24, 1919 could not be applied in the colonies. However, the Gouverneur Général de l'AOF acknowledged that one day of rest per week was necessary. In response, the Association Amicale of the railroad workers asked the railroad director to insist on one day off per week for all "chefs and sous-chefs de gare, ainsi qu'à tous les chefs de districts Européens" (for all station masters, assistant station masters, and all European district heads).

Chambre de Commerce de Saint Louis to Chef du Service de la Poste et Telegraph,
n°778 (December 19, 1936)

Some businessmen and French officials feared that the implementation of the 40-hour week would hurt postal service along the Upper Senegal River. It would force the closure of post offices whose schedules were determined by the passage of the express train at Kidira. [See also Lt. Gouverneur du Sénégal to Gouverneur Général de l'AOF, letter n°4290 (December 28, 1936).]

Journal Officiel de la République Française (November 13, 1938), page 12861

A group of cabinet ministers sent a letter to the President of the Republic suggesting that the 1936 law on the 40-hour work week be softened a bit in the interests of productivity for the national defense. The ministers included Daladier (defense), Chautemps (Vice President du Conseil), Sarraut (interior), Patenôtre (École Nationale), Bonnet (foreign affairs), Reynaud (finance), Georges Mandel (colonies) and others.

Le President du Conseil Edouard Daladier, "Note de Service" (December 5, 1938)

New provisions of the law of November 12, 1938 concerned overtime work. They went into effect on December 5, 1938, and set the bonus for overtime work to ten percent.

Réné Barthes, Ministre des Colonies, to Governeurs Généraux et Gouverneurs des Colonies, le Haut Commissaire de la République au Togo, le Commissaire de la République au Cameroun, l'Administrateur des iles St. Pierre et Miquillon,
letter n°4068/5 (Paris, December 23, 1938)

This was the official order from the Minister of Colonies to institute new regulations concerning overtime bonuses and other measures to increase productivity. It was sent with copies of the previous note, and instructed that it be applied in each administrator's territory.

Gouverneur Général de l'AOF to Ministre des Colonies,
letter n°22 AF/1 (Dakar, January 18, 1939)

The decree that modified overtime pay could not be applied in AOF because it was based on the law of June 21, 1936, which was not applicable in the AOF either.


The 40-hour work week was not applied in the AOF because of the unusal labor demands that occurred during the hivernage (rainy season). The alternative approach was to set a standard of 2,000 hours of work per year per person.