France: Latest working life developments Q4 2018
The rise of the gilets jaunes social movement, measures aimed at reducing the gender pay gap and the relationship between self-employed workers and digital platforms are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in France in the fourth quarter of 2018.
Rise in petrol prices triggers gilets jaunes protest movement
In October 2018, the protest movement of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) began on social networks in response to a rise in petrol prices, mainly due to an eco-tax aimed at increasing the cost of fossil fuels. Brought together by a common grievance, the protestors quickly found a goal: to block roads all over France on 17 November. The movement also adopted an emblem: the yellow vest, an item of safety clothing that all drivers are obliged to have in their cars. According to police estimates, over 280,000 demonstrators turned out to protest on 17 November and more than 200 people were injured.
The gilets jaunes also called for social justice measures, such as the restoration of the wealth tax (partially abolished in 2017), the abolition of an increase in the universal social contribution (CSG), which reduced the purchasing power of pensioners in 2018, and an increase in the legal minimum wage.
On 10 December, President Macron announced an initial set of measures to ‘provide a first response [...] to those who need it most’. The government refused to increase the minimum wage by more than the automatic annual increase, but accepted an increase in the employment bonus (a welfare allowance granted to the lowest paid workers) from 1 January 2019. This increase, combined with the automatic increase in the minimum wage, should result in the payment of an additional €100 per month to employees at the minimum wage level.
In addition, the government encouraged companies to pay a tax-free bonus of up to €1,000, without social security contributions. This measure was included in a law ‘on economic and social emergency measures’, which was adopted on 24 December 2018. The government also agreed to cancel the eco-tax and the increase in the additional CSG paid by pensioners. Additionally, it decided to remove social contributions and taxes on overtime payments, with the aim of improving the net salary of employees.
- Government of France: LOI n° 2018-1213 du 24 décembre 2018
Changes in the industrial relations landscape
The second assessment of trade union representativeness in the public sector was published in December 2018, based on the results of workplace elections held between 29 November and 6 December. Almost half of the five million registered voters participated in the vote.
- The General Confederation of Labour (CGT) remains the leading trade union organisation in the civil service sector as a whole, with 21.8% of the votes (1.3 percentage points lower than in 2014).
- The French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) gained 19% of the votes (0.3 percentage points lower than in 2014).
- The General Confederation of Labour – Workers’ Force (CGT-FO) received 18.1% of the votes (0.5 percentage points lower than in 2014).
- The National Union of Autonomous Trade Unions (UNSA) received 11.2% of the votes (0.8 percentage points more than in 2014).
Taking into account the results of workplace elections in the private sector , the CFDT has become the leading French trade union across the combined public and private sectors.
- Ministry of Public Action and Accounts: Résultats des élections professionnelles pour les comités techniques dans la fonction publique en 2018, résultats définitifs
Innovative tool to reduce pay inequalities
On 8 January 2019, the government published details of a new measure aimed at reducing the gender pay gap. The measure was included in Law 2018-771 passed on 5 September 2018.  The new measure is based initially on an employer’s self-assessment using an equal pay index. This index is based on five criteria, each with a value expressed in points:
- the elimination of wage gaps between women and men in comparable positions and of comparable age (40 points)
- gender equality with respect to salary increases (20 points)
- gender equality with respect to promotion (15 points)
- female employees receive any increases awarded in their absence upon return from maternity leave (15 points)
- at least four women and at least four men in the 10 highest paying positions (10 points)
The employer must evaluate its performance according to these criteria, publish the results on its website, forward them to employee representatives and give itself an overall score. If the score is less than 75 points, corrective measures must be implemented. Companies that have not achieved satisfactory results by 1 March 2022 (or 1 March 2023 for companies with 50 to 250 employees) will risk a penalty of up to 1% of the payroll. This measure has been widely welcomed by the social partners.
- Government of France: LOI n° 2018-771 du 5 septembre 2018
- Ministry of Labour: L’index de l’égalité femmes-hommes : En finir avec les inégalités salariales entre les femmes et les hommes, de façon simple, fiable et motivante pour tous
- Government of France: Décret n° 2019-15 du 8 janvier 2019
Court defines contracts for digital platform workers
Work within digital platforms was subject to a judgment handed down by the Court of Cassation on 28 November. The judgment rules, for the first time, on how a contract between self-employed independent workers and a digital platform should be defined. For the court, if the conditions for the performance of the service have the characteristic elements of a subordinate relationship, it must be classified as an employment contract.
For its part, the government has introduced a provision in a draft law to allow electronic platforms to establish a charter determining how they will exercise their social responsibility. The adoption of such a charter, which would define their rights and obligations as well as those of the self-employed individuals they work with, aims to protect platforms against the risk of requalification of the contractual relationship as a salaried worker’s employment contract.
- Cour de Cassation: Nº de pourvoi 17-20079
- Government of France: Projet de loi d’orientation des mobilités (article 20)
This quarter, marked by the social movement of the gilets jaunes, shows that the exclusion of social partners as intermediaries can lead to confrontation between the government and parts of the population. In the absence of institutions that are able to channel demands and organise negotiations, the result can spell open conflict.