Intersectoral agreement signed on gender equality

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A national intersectoral agreement on gender equality and gender balance in workforce composition was signed in April 2004 by France's main employers' organisations and trade union confederations. It covers matters such as narrowing the gender pay gap, preventing maternity leave from adversely affecting women's careers and addressing labour market segregation. The accord aims to provide a framework for lower-level bargaining and lays down no concrete targets or sanctions . A number of recent company and sector-level agreements have dealt with similar issues.

On 7 April 2004, a national intersectoral agreement on gender equality and gender balance in workforce composition, was signed by the main employers' organisations - the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF), the General Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Confédération générale des petites et moyennes entreprises, CGPME) and the Craftwork Employers' Association (Union professionnelle artisanale, UPA) - and the five representative trade union confederations - the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT), the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT), the General Confederation of Labour-Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail-Force ouvrière, CGT-FO), the French Christian Workers' Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC) and 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 context of the new agreement is that, over 30 years after the first French laws on gender equality in employment, such equality has not yet become a reality (FR0304104F). Women’s position in the labour market has improved, and is becoming gradually more equal with that of men. However, inequalities remain: women are concentrated in traditionally 'female' occupations; pay inequality is still unresolved; women are over-represented in part-time work; and women have higher levels of unemployment. A recent survey by the National Institute for Economic Studies and Statistics (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques, INSEE) (Insee Première, n° 951, March 2004) stresses the persistence of gender inequalities, not least in the upper tiers of organisations: fewer than two out of 10 senior managers are female, and they earn around one-third less than their male counterparts. Additionally, maternity is still penalising women’s careers, whereas having a family actually strengthens those of men.

Content of agreement

The new intersectoral agreement on gender equality in employment aims to combat the disadvantaged position of women in the labour market. It adds to existing legislation by focusing on specific themes and methods. For example, motherhood should not hinder a woman’s career, and to ensure this, a link with the company must be maintained during the period of maternity leave, while the employer must offer a special interview before and after the period of leave. Furthermore, the agreement provides that: unjustified gender-based pay discrepancies must be corrected; the stereotypes surrounding employment areas thought of as 'women’s work' should be tackled; and access to training must be the same for everyone. The accord also aims to guide women's choice of careers towards flourishing sectors and ensure gender balance in recruitment and career development.

The agreement has no statistical targets or sanctions, as its goal is simply to lay down parameters for future sector and company-level bargaining. It is a framework agreement that must be adapted at sector and company levels. It will be supplemented by a jointly-drafted letter sent to the government, since some of the agreement’s provisions require state intervention. The signatories were due to meet on 11 May 2004 to agree the text of this joint letter.

Union positions

Despite debates and arguments, the agreement ultimately won unanimous support from the five trade union confederations. A protocol agreement was initially signed on 1 March by three union confederations - CFE-CGC, CFTC and CGT-FO - which acknowledged the limits of such an agreement, especially the absence of concrete targets and sanctions. CFDT and CGT were initially more hesitant. CFDT was concerned about the absence of statistical targets for reducing gender inequalities, which could ensure that sector-level bargaining will bring positive results. However, it decided to sign on 18 March 2004. It planned to argue for various demands and measures that do not figure in the current agreement in the negotiations on 11 May over the jointly-drafted letter to be sent to the government. CGT, while signing up to the agreement, has requested further talks on women’s retirement. Like CFDT, CGT threatened not to sign the joint letter in May if there were still no mandatory statistical targets for the reduction of pay discrepancies. However, it should be emphasised that signing or not signing this letter is not necessary for the agreement to be endorsed.

Company and sector-level agreements

Some firms had already begun implementing the measures provided for in the new intersectoral agreement. These include Thalès (electronics), Renault (motor manufacturing), PSA Peugeot Citroën (motor manufacturing).

On 17 February 2004, management and four trade unions (CFDT, CFE-CGC, CFTC and CGT-FO) at Renault signed an agreement on gender equality in employment and work-life balance. This agreement affects the 44,000 employees of Renault SA and seeks to implement the principle of anti-discrimination in recruitment and throughout women’s careers. A 'gender equality observatory' is to be set up, while in each workplace with more than 200 staff, the works council will have a 'gender equality in employment' committee. Moreover, Renault is offering all employees who want one a personal interview before and after maternity leave (involving an offer of training to allow an easier resumption of duties, to take place optionally during parental leave). The agreement reaffirms various existing company measures aimed at reconciling work and family life: an agreement on increasing the level of part-time work among those who prefer it; reducing working hours during pregnancy; a two-week extension to maternity or adoption leave with no loss of pay; authorised absence to complete the paperwork for adoption; and leave for parents to care for a sick child (four days per year, partly paid). New measures are also provided for in the agreement, including: reserved parking places for pregnant women; a payment to women starting maternity leave; and an increased adoption bonus of EUR 1,500. Fathers will receive their net pay during paternity leave, minus any social security benefits they receive. Lastly, absences related to maternity, paternity or adoption leave are included in actual working hours in the calculation of both time off awarded as part of the reduction of working time, and of profit-sharing and quarterly bonuses.

Similarly, the PSA Peugeot Citroën group announced in November 2003 that an agreement on the promotion of female employment and gender equality had been signed by the company, the five unions active in the group - CFDT, CFE-CGC, CFTC, CGT-FO and the European Group of Automobile Industry Unions (Groupement des syndicats européens de l'automobile, GSEA). The objective of this agreement is to bolster a policy of recruiting more women and working towards a better gender balance in the workforce.

The management of Thalès and the group’s five unions reached an agreement on gender equality in January 2004. It is a framework agreement to be refined through negotiation within each of the group’s companies that has union delegates. This agreement contains provisions to prevent the risks of discrimination over pay, and of barriers to career development because of maternity, adoption and parental leave.

At sector level, in early March 2004, two employers’ associations - the French Electricity Industry Association (Union française de l'électricité, UFE) and the National Association of Gas Industry Employers (Union nationale des employeurs de l'industrie du gaz, UNEMIG) - and four unions - CFDT, CFTC, CGT and CGT-FO - in the electricity and gas industries signed an agreement promoting gender equality in employment in terms of pay, career development, recruitment, working time and training. Women make up some 22% of the industry’s 150,000 employees. Only CFE-CGC did not sign, deeming the agreement 'not ambitious enough'.


While this burst of collective bargaining activity on gender equality in employment was occurring in France, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on reconciling professional, family and private lives on 9 March 2004. The report stresses a variety of avenues to be explored in order to accomplish the objectives decided upon by the EU Member States at the March 2002 Barcelona European Council meeting in terms of the elimination of obstacles to women’s labour market participation. French collective bargaining in the area of gender equality in employment has developed largely in line with the terms and methods laid down by the European institutions and actors in the social field. (Christèle Meilland, IRES)

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