'Methods agreement' signed on GIAT restructuring

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In May 2003, a methods agreement was signed between trade unions and management at GIAT Industries, the French arms manufacturer. The agreement sets out a procedure and timetable for consultations over a major restructuring plan involving large-scale job losses which the company announced in April. In line with this procedure, a draft 'company contract', outlining the state's commitments and GIAT's plans for the 2003-8 period, was presented in June and criticised by the unions.

In April 2003, the management of GIAT Industries, the state-owned armaments manufacturer, announced a major restructuring plan covering the 2003-6 period, which included site closures and the loss of 4,000 jobs by 2006, in order to end up with a 2,500-strong workforce (FR0305101N). The trade unions represented at the group - the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT), the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff-General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l'encadrement-Confédération générale des cadres, CFE-CGC), the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC), the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT), and the General Confederation of Labour-Force Ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail-Force Ouvrière, CGT-FO) - responded by setting up an inter-union committee that organised the mobilisation of both employees and local politicians in opposition to the management plans.

Bargaining then began over a 'methods agreement' (accord de méthode) - a device set out in the 'social modernisation' law of 2002 (FR0201102F), which enables the process of implementing a restructuring plan to be suspended in order to amend the ways in which the various consultations and the use of experts take place. After several sessions (on 24 and 29 April and 7 May), such an agreement was finally presented and unanimously endorsed by the five unions represented on the GIAT central works council (CFDT, CFE-CGC, CFTC, CGT and CGT-FO) on 12 May. This methods agreement is aimed at allowing the central works council's members to act in a 'fully informed' way. In order to accomplish this, the accord provides for the creation of two committees:

  • a 'specific industrial committee', comprised of the members of the central works council's existing economics committee, its secretary and national-level trade union delegates. It will prepare alternative solutions to GIAT management's economic restructuring plan; and
  • a 'specific social committee', comprised of two people nominated by each of the unions with representative status within the company, which will examine the proposals put forward in the management’s 'plan to safeguard employment' (plan de sauvegarde d'emploi - a document which must obligatorily be drawn up by companies planning redundancies) and possibly present alternative proposals.

Local committees from the various GIAT sites may contribute to the work of the two special committees. Two consultancy firms have been appointed to assist the central works council in analysing the management’s plan and in the drafting of alternative proposals.

The methods agreement lays down the following timetable for the central works council's work:

  • presentation by management of a draft 'company contract' (see below) on 18 June 2003;
  • by 5 September, completion of scrutiny of the restructuring plan, presentation of the reports of the two consultancy firms retained by the central works council and presentation of 'alternative solutions' by the two special committees;
  • announcement on 29 September of the central works council's views on the manufacturing aspects of the restructuring plan (as amended, if applicable) and on 16 October of its position on the social aspects of the plan; and
  • conclusion of the procedure on 16 October 2003.

Unions, management and local politicians welcomed the methods agreement, though their medium-term objectives are not the same.

On 18 June, GIAT Industries management duly presented the central works council with the draft 'company contract', which outlines the state’s commitments and GIAT’s plans for the 2003-8 period. According to this draft, the state would commit over EUR 1.1 billion over this period. The unions have challenged some of the options outlined in this draft. CFDT feels that the document confirms 'the abandonment of the small calibre (weapons and munitions) division', while CGT argues that the draft contract should be 'revised and corrected'. Demonstrations took place in sites affected by the draft's provisions.

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