France: Social partners approve Workplace health plan for 2016–2020

On 8 December 2015, following lengthy consultations, the government and all representative social partners at national level adopted the third Workplace health plan. The plan has two key objectives: to reinforce a culture of risk prevention and to improve the quality of working conditions. 

Background

The Workplace health plan for 2016–2020 (troisième​ Plan santé au travail – PST 3) is the third initiative of its kind. The first was the Workplace health Plan 2005–2009 (in French, 741 KB PDF), which was discussed in the EurWork article Government presents Workplace health plan 2005–9. The second plan was the Workplace health plan 2010–2014 (in French, 577 KB PDF). The first few lines of the third Workplace health plan explain that it ‘defines, in terms of how it was prepared and its content, the long-term goal of fully overhauling workplace health policy, which is shared by the state, social partners and social security system, as well as prevention bodies and stakeholders’. It was the first time the Ministry of Labour had entrusted the social partners with the task of developing guidelines for the Workplace health hlan, while involving all workplace health and safety stakeholders in its preparation.

Social partner consensus

The new plan was drafted on the basis of guidelines defined by the social partners represented on the Steering Committee on Working Conditions (COCT). The Minister of Labour is responsible for the COCT. Its role, as defined in the Labour Code (article L. 4641-1), includes participating in the development of strategic guidelines for national public policies. It is also consulted on draft legislation and regulations concerning workplace health and safety. COCT includes representatives from trade unions (CFE-CGC, CFDT, CFTC, CGT, CGT-FO) and employer organisations (MEDEF, CGPME, UPA, FNSEA, UNAPL), the State (Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Agriculture) and the National Health Insurance Fund (Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Maladie). This group met on five occasions during 2014 to draft proposed guidelines for the Workplace health plan (in French, 291 KB PDF). The guidelines were adopted unanimously by the social partners, and were submitted to the Minister of Labour at the end of 2014. They were approved by the Minister in January 2015. After several months of preparation, as part of a broad consultation process involving all workplace prevention and health stakeholders, the Workplace health plan for 2016–2020 (in French, 1 MB PDF) was published on 8 December 2015.

Objectives of plan

The Workplace health plan states that its content points towards ‘a change of perspective concerning workplace health’. It explains: ‘As opposed to a vision focusing on compensation and therefore primarily on potentially toxic workplaces, ... [it] restores work as the central focus of our concerns and places the prevention culture at the heart of all initiatives. ... In France, the prevention culture still generally remains in the background’.

1. Developing a prevention culture

The first objective of the plan is to promote prevention in all fields and especially for risks identified as priorities. This will be achieved by:

  • continuing to work on a variety of ‘classic’ risks (falls and trips, chemical risks, professional driving risks);
  • taking into account organisational risks, such as professional burnout, with a focus on the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders and psychosocial risks (especially burnout or professional exhaustion syndrome);
  • anticipating emerging risks (carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, nanomaterials, impact of digital technologies), by assisting employers with their general assessment approach for chemical risks and including issues linked to digital technology in the assessment of risk’.

The plan stresses that this prevention culture ‘must be reinforced and promoted to all corporate stakeholders, particularly those of the SMEs and micro-businesses’.

2. Improving quality of life in the workplace

The second focus of the plan is the ‘mobilisation of all stakeholders in favour of prevention, so that working conditions are considered a strategic priority for companies’. This has a three-pronged approach:

Promoting quality of life in the workplace

This involves the implementation of the National Interprofessional Agreement of 19 June 2013 on the quality of life in the workplace (discussed in a EurWork article published on 27 August 2013, Agreement on quality of working life and professional equality). Its main aim is to look at how managers are trained and to provide companies with the right support. It addresses questions concerning the impact of digital technology on the quality of life in the workplace by modifying the conditions for teleworking (discussed in the EurWork article published on 18 December 2014, France: A legal right to switch off from work). It supports the conclusion of agreements regulating the use of digital tools in the amendment to the collective agreement (in French, 5.4 MB PDF) of the sector for engineers and consulting engineers, signed on 1 April 2014. This stipulates that the employee must switch off remote communication devices during minimum rest periods of 11 hours a day and 35 hours per week.

Keeping workers with health problems in employment

It is estimated that that 95% of people declared unfit are dismissed. In 2014, almost 64,000 new registrations at the public employment service (Pôle emploi) were the result of a declaration of unfitness. The aim of the plan is to avoid dismissing employees who would then face long-term unemployment with a reduced likelihood of finding a new job.

Reinforcing links between workplace and public health

It is recommended that companies and the authorities responsible for workplace and public health work together more closely, mainly to prevent multi-factorial risks, such as those arising from addictive practices or cardiovascular diseases.

3. Reinforcing social dialogue 

The third focus of the plan is to place social dialogue at the heart of workplace health policy, mainly by encouraging the conclusion of collective agreements at sector and corporate level. The plan also recommends that a coordinated network of stakeholders should be created for companies, especially SMEs and micro-businesses. Finally, it suggests that standards should be simplified to make them more effective, and that this should be coupled with the reinforcement of knowledge and information systems

Commentary

The third Workplace health plan marks a break from previous years. It is remarkable to see that all the social partners have agreed to prioritise risk prevention, to simplify regulations to make them more effective, and to recognise that work is also a positive factor for health. The consultation process and time devoted to drafting the plan (almost two years) played a vital role in this. Interim evaluations are planned to monitor its effectiveness, and to review regional variations which may take some time to formulate because recent territorial reforms have resulted in several regions being merged. As all the social partners will undoubtedly be keen to point out, a few trade unions such as FO have already warned that they will remain vigilant (in French) to make sure that compensation for work-related health problems is not the sole responsibility of society in general but is shared by the employer, and that the ‘simplification’ of regulations does not negatively affect the role of employee representative bodies.

 

 

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