The French Senate last night passed a law that effectively ends the country's maximum 35-hour working week.

The new law will allow companies to agree individual deals with employees and trade unions on working hours and overtime.

The 35-hour week was introduced by the then Socialist government in France 10 years ago as a way to combat unemployment.

It was strongly opposed by the centre-right, and its repeal has been a major policy issue for President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Public opinion polls show the French still view the 35-hour work week as a progressive measure that they do not want to part with.

Senators also adopted other key reforms that change rules on strikes, tighten criteria for unemployment payments, and free up the economy with plans aimed at bringing down the cost of living by boosting competition.