Flagship agreement on working time cuts at EDF-GDF

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In January 1999, a framework agreement on the reduction of working time and new recruitment was signed at EDF-GDF, the French gas and electricity utility, by management and all five major trade unions. The new deal followed a 1997 agreement signed only by minority unions, which was subsequently annulled by the courts after non-signatory unions challenged it. Employees voted massively in favour of the new agreement.

A framework agreement on the reduction of working time was signed at the electricity and gas utility, Electricité de France-Gaz de France (EDF-GDF), on 25 January 1999. On the trade union side, the deal was signed by all five major unions - CFDT, CFE-CGT, CFTC, CGT and CGT-FO. This agreement, which affects 141,000 employees, provides that weekly working time will be reduced from 38 to 35 hours, with pay remaining at previous levels. This will take effect by 1 October 1999. Further reduction to 32 hours is possible on voluntary basis, with employees receiving 97.1% of full-time monthly pay.

This reduction of working time will be implemented by means of local agreements during the first half of 1999. The favoured method of cutting working time revolves around an alternating four- and five-day working week, but days off can also be accumulated throughout the year (especially for professional and managerial staff). The revamped system of working time organisation enables more hours to be worked per day or week, and allows for variation throughout the year. In this case, compensatory time off is provided for. For professional and managerial staff, there is flat-rate compensation of up to 15 days per year for time worked in excess of statutory hours, a quarter of which can be lodged in a "time savings account" (compte épargne temps). A system for calculating actual working time is put in place.

The agreement provides for the recruitment of between 18,000 and 20,000 young people, which, after allowing for retirement, means the net creation of between 3,000 and 5,000 new jobs. Measures for early retirement have been implemented, affecting staff who have paid at least 37.5 years of pension contributions. Each early retirement has to be matched by the hiring of a new worker.

The state is partially funding the EDF-GDF agreement to the tune of FRF 600 million, corresponding to the structural aid worth FRF 5,000 per employee provided for under the terms of the 1998 "Aubry law" introducing the 35-hour working week (FR9806113F).

The new agreement follows a January 1997 accord on similar subjects which was signed only by minority unions at EDF-GDF - CFDT, CFE-CGC and CFTC (FR9702105F). This agreement was annulled by the courts in September 1998 after the majority unions - CGT and CGT-FO - exercised their right of objection and challenged it (FR9810201F). In a consultation exercise organised by CGT, employees voted massively in favour of the new deal.

This agreement marks a turning point in industrial relations at EDF-GDF. It is the first time for 15 years that all the unions have signed such an important agreement - even the CGT, which has returned to the bargaining table alongside a new management more open to dialogue. This might indeed facilitate negotiations on opening up the electricity and gas market on the European scale (EU9902151F). In its content, this "flagship agreement" could well act as a model for other public sector companies.

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