Report highlights rise in number of company-level agreements

Collective bargaining, encouraged by incentives and sanctions introduced by French law since 1982, has become an important tool for social regulation, concludes a report by the French Centre for Strategic Analysis (CAS). A review, published in July 2011 by the French Ministry of Labour, shows 2010 was a good year for collective bargaining, particularly on an interprofessional basis, and at company level. However, state involvement in local negotiations can be detrimental.

Interprofessional agreements on a par with 2008

The Ministry of Labour’s Review of collective bargaining in 2010 (in French), carried out by the General Labour Directorate (DGT) recorded 25 agreements signed on an interprofessional basis, about the same as in 2008 (26), but less than half the total in 2009 (58). However, the report underlines the high number of negotiations held in 2010 in connection with the ambitious programme to reform the employee representative bodies and the institutionalised system of the parity principle (paritarisme). The DGT highlights, in particular, the national interprofessional agreement (ANI) on harassment and violence at work (in French, 161Kb PDF), signed on March 26 (FR1006011I), as well as the agreement on socially responsible management of the impact of the economic crisis on employment, on May 19, 2010.

Stable number of agreements in sectors

At sectoral level, the amount of collective bargaining remained stable in 2010, with 1,136 agreements signed. After a decrease in wage agreement in 2009, the number of agreements, 421, returned to levels similar to those between 2005–2008. Agreements concerning bonus payments saw a slight increase (205 texts compared to 179 in 2009). Topics related to working time followed a similar pattern (60). The social partners concluded more agreements on professional gender equality, with 149 agreements on this subject compared with 121 in 2009. In other respects, supplementary social protection has become a central issue for collective bargaining, with 144 agreements signed in 2010. The subject of working conditions (47 agreements) largely focused on negotiations concerning older workers and, in some cases, psychosocial risks and arduous working conditions. The social partners maintained the same level of negotiation on vocational training as in 2009 (166 texts).

Increased number of company-level agreements

The DGT identifies 33,826 collective agreements or equivalent texts concluded between the social partners, an increase of 18% compared with 2009. Some 72 % of these texts (24,355) are signed by trade union representatives. A growing number of agreements concern trade union law (+19%), as well as agreements and other texts relating to company saving schemes (+6.2%). The subject of professional gender equality is also becoming more prevalent at company level, but it is often negotiated as part of the obligatory annual bargaining round and rarely addressed exclusively, according to the DGT. Although the number of agreements dealing with wages has flattened out, this remains the principal area of activity, with 7,999 texts (32.8%). The subject of employment has returned to a level similar to that before 2009, when it peaked because of the implementation of compulsory negotiations on employing older workers.

The topic of working time is addressed in 6,000 accords. As highlighted by a study (in French) conducted by the Centre for Strategic Analysis, the effect of the legal obligations to negotiate from 1982 onwards has been ‘a quantitative development in the practice of negotiation within companies and the sectors’. However, the study's appraisal of the qualitative impact is more ambiguous, underlining that ‘an examination of the measures negotiated in the agreements frequently reveals formalism and a low level of commitment by the parties’.

Commentary

The Centre for Strategic Analysis and a recent Dares report (in French, pdf 537 Kb) explained that, without the legal obligations to negotiate from 1982 onwards, and the incentives and sanctions imposed by the legislature, collective bargaining would not be the instrument of social regulation that it is today. However, this support for collective bargaining clearly reflects the ambiguous position of the state which, while demanding that social partners establish autonomous social dialogue, also continues to intervene by imposing the subjects for negotiation and monitoring the process. The state justifies this because of the ‘weakness’ of the social partners (which prompted the 2008 reform concerning representativity as means of strengthening them), their resistance to change and even, in some cases, ‘their incompetence’.

At company level, state intrusion into meetings between the workforce and management occasionally prove detrimental to the local level negotiations. The state should consider rethinking its intervention and place more faith in the social partners' ability to construct a negotiated form of social regulation.

Frédéric Turlan, HERA

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