Complementary health and social protection guaranteed during unemployment

An additional clause to the national intersectoral agreement on modernising the labour market came into force in July 2009. It provides for maintaining, for a maximum period of nine months, the benefit of complementary health and social protection guarantees that were applied in the company the unemployed person last worked for. The social partners welcomed the additional clause, particularly the concept of funding the prolongation through a system of mutualisation.

On 18 May 2009, all of the country’s employer organisations and trade unions adopted an additional clause to the national intersectoral agreement (accord national interprofessionnel, ANI) on modernising the labour market, which was signed on 18 January 2008 (FR0802049I). The new Article 14 of the agreement provides for maintaining guarantees of complementary health and social protection schemes during periods of unemployment.

Signatories to the additional clause were, on the employer side, the General Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Confédération générale des petites et moyennes entreprises, CGPME), the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF) and the Craftwork Employers’ Association (Union professionnelle artisanale, UPA). On the trade union side, they comprised the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT), 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 French Christian Workers’ Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC), the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT) and the General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail – Force ouvrière, CGT-FO).

Provision of additional clause

Since 1 July 2009, in cases of termination of employment contracts leading to unemployment benefit entitlement, the additional clause to the labour market reform agreement provides for newly unemployed people to maintain the benefit of complementary health and social protection scheme guarantees to which they were entitled in their former company. This right has to exist in unemployed people’s former company in order for such guarantees to apply during unemployment for the same length of time as their last employment contract, up to a maximum period of nine months.

The social partners who signed the clause had asked the authorities to take the necessary measures to remove the ceiling of six months imposed by the Evin law, which was adopted on 31 December 1989.

The social partners undertook to draw up an initial assessment of the new measures at the end of the year following their coming into force – and to seek to make adjustments if necessary.

Funding and implementation of clause

The additional clause lays down that funding for the prolongation of complementary health and social protection scheme guarantees will be provided by:

  • the former employer and employee in line with the same proportions and conditions applicable to employees of the company;

or

• a system of mutualisation – that is, shared funding of required resources – defined by collective agreement. In the absence of a collective agreement, the system of mutualisation could apply in cases where:

  • a draft agreement providing for it is proposed by management and ratified by a majority of staff;

or

  • employers inform the employees concerned of their unilateral decision in writing.

Former employees have the option of definitively giving up their right to maintain the guarantees of complementary health and social protection cover. In such cases, they must inform their former employer by letter within 10 days following the termination of their employment contract.

Moreover, non-payment by former employees of their share of the funding of the guarantees exempts former employers from any obligation, and also removes the right to benefit from the guarantees for the rest of the period concerned.

The measure regarding the transferability of these rights, which means that former employees are able to keep the benefit of complementary health and social protection scheme guarantees, applies as soon as their employment contract has come to an end and the justification that they have been registered by the unemployment scheme was sent to their former employer. The former employer then gives their former employee an information sheet provided by the insurance body specifying the rules concerning implementation of the transferability.

Former employees cannot receive financial benefits through these guarantees that exceed unemployment benefits.

Social partner reactions

MEDEF’s negotiator, Benoît Roger-Vasselin, was quite satisfied with the creation of this ‘simple right’ and insisted on the employers’ wish for ‘employees – and especially those on short-term employment contracts – to be able to maintain their rights regarding health and social protection cover’. In his view, the agreement is appreciable because, given the cost of mutualisation, ‘the solution that has been adopted makes consensus possible’. Thus, ‘the new right given to employees is compatible with the principle of mutualisation’.

The trade unions called for pre-funding based on compulsory mutualisation, which would have ensured the transferability of rights for all employees who lose their jobs. Although this demand was not satisfied, all five trade union confederations eventually signed the additional clause to the national intersectoral agreement.

On behalf of CFDT, Deputy General Secretary Marcel Grignard attributed the employers’ refusal to the fact that ‘companies still tend to develop rights in order to keep employees rather than promote their mobility’.

The National Secretary of CFE-CGC, Alain Lecanu, considered the additional clause to be ‘advantageous’ as it ‘improves the agreement that was signed on 11 January 2008’. He also welcomed the fact that the issue of mutualisation had not been abandoned.

The CGT-FO negotiator, Bernard Devy, emphasised that ‘the clause improves the situation of those employees who are in the most insecure employment situations’. He also highlighted that the next social partner meeting planned for 2010 to examine practices in economic sectors and companies will allow for ‘making progress on generalising complementary health cover and mutualising funding of such schemes’.

CFTC eventually signed the agreement’s additional clause and considered that the issue of mutualisation is an ‘essential principle’. Thus, first Vice-President Gabrielle Simon explained that CFTC hesitated to sign the additional clause because of the transferability of rights; such transferability ‘can only be ensured through mutualisation, on which basis other rights can be developed, however insecure or not the situation of the employee concerned is’.

CGT’s executive committee came out in favour of signing the additional clause on 24 June 2009, stating that ‘the possibility of having rights from the first month in work [...] concerns thousands of employees when their short-term employment contracts come to an end’.

Commentary

The adoption of this additional clause to the national intersectoral agreement of 18 January 2008 on labour market reform was less of a historic event due to the fact that such agreements are increasingly approved by all social partners. Nevertheless, experts did not expect that there would be eight signatures in the end, as the trade unions had not obtained all of their demands. The final version of the text that was adopted, however, is significantly different from the original proposal by the employers, which was less advantageous and provided only minimal guarantees for workers.

After the adoption of measures to improve benefits for short-time working for jobseekers (FR0905029I), this clause enables the transferability of complementary health and social protection scheme guarantees for employees who become unemployed. Nonetheless, negotiations between employer organisations and trade unions will continue, as this summer they have begun discussions on managing the impact of the economic crisis on employment, in particular on that of older and younger people.

Benoît Robin, Institute for Economic and Social Research (IRES)

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