New deal on social dialogue in insurance sector

A new agreement has been reached in the insurance sector, under the umbrella of reforms to French union law. The agreement, founded on the principles of representativity and financial transparency, improves the way union representatives are allocated in the sector. Results for the elections to a works council, or for delegates of personnel, in all firms in the sector, are traditionally used to determine how many administrators sit on the body overseeing pension funds.

Background

Reforms in trade union law are giving individual workers greater powers to select their representatives at company level. The transition phase for these reforms, set out in law on 20 August 2008, is expected to last until 2017. Before this reform, the status of representativeness by a trade union was acquired either by its affiliation to a national trade union organisation which was already identified as being representative, or through legally recognised criteria. By 2017, a union will have to obtain 10% of the votes in order to be recognised in a company as representative (or 8% to be granted representativeness at sector level).

The law is an important step for the insurance sector. On 3 January 2011, after several months of negotiations, an agreement entitled ‘Renovation of social dialogue within insurance’ was concluded. It substantially improves the previous method of allocating union representatives. It has been signed by the French Federation of Insurance Companies (FFSA) and the Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (GEMA) for the employers, and by the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) representing the unions. It is also expected to be signed by the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (CFE-CGC). Force Ouvrière (FO) and the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (CFTC) have not signed.

Details of law

According to the terms of the 2008 law, the representativeness of trade unions will be measured every four years on the basis of the consolidated votes which the unions obtained at the first round of elections for the Works Council, or for the Delegates of Personnel, in all companies within the sector.

In the insurance sector, the results have traditionally been used to determine the number of administrators sitting on the body overseeing pension funds. In order to facilitate the transition of the new law, a working group will meet regularly throughout 2011 to validate the list of companies and the results of workplace elections as of 31 December 2010. Any adjustment to representativeness in the workplace must be made by 30 June 2011. The results will then be fixed for three years until the implementation of the final rules of representativeness in the sector in 2013.

The collection of the results from the first round of elections of Works Council members has begun, in line with the law of 2008, and the results will be used to determine the unions’ representativity in the sector from 2013.

At the end of November 2010, this consolidation gave the distribution of workplace votes among the unions as:

  • CFDT: 42%;
  • CGT: 20.1%;
  • CGC: 17.4%;
  • FO: 10.8%;
  • CFTC: 9.7%.

Certain organisations, such as the National Federation of Independent Unions (UNSA) and Solidarity, Unity, Democracy (SUD), which represent insurance workers, but which are not technically representative, together received close to 10% of the votes in the first round of workplace elections.

It is important to note that the transitional provisions of the law guarantee representativeness to the five trade union confederations until 2017, after which point they will be bound entirely by the new rules.

Financing and organisation of social dialogue in the sector

An employer and trade union association, the Association for Social Dialogue in the Insurance Sector (ADSA), has been created and charged with collecting funds in conjunction with the insurance companies. Under the new rules the financing of social dialogue has been set at a rate of €5 per worker, which is expected to total €700,000 for the sector (20% higher than with the previous system). These funds will be distributed between the unions according to their level of representativeness.

This budget can be used to remunerate permanent workplace representatives, but can also be used for operational costs, such as materials, documentation, hiring of rooms, auditors’ fees and training.

The association has also been charged with the management of a transparent financial system for the trade unions. It will collect money, in conjunction with companies, in order to:

  • refund those companies paying the wages and social contributions of the permanent workplace representatives, attached to a trade union federation;
  • refund operational costs to the relevant union federation;
  • draw up an annual report;
  • create and maintain an internet site dedicated to social dialogue in the sector.

Establishing permanent trade union workplace representatives will now be easier and the conditions governing this process are contained in the agreement. These conditions guarantee security of employment for permanent representatives, who can be full-time or part-time. It means, for example, that they will get the same wage increases as other workers. However, the principle of plurality of the mandate for permanent, full-time workplace representatives is maintained. These employees, at the end of their union role are granted the right to return to a job in their company which is at least equivalent to that which they occupied before taking up the role of work-place representatives.

The law provides that, in companies of less than 200 workers without a union present, collective agreements can be concluded by representatives elected by the workforce or those designated by the trade unions. These agreements must however be validated by the Joint Committee of the sector, which must check conformity with the legislation, regulations or applicable conventions. Under the new regulations, agreements made in the absence of trade unions will require the consent of a majority of the employee representatives and employers in order to validate them.

Representatives of management and workers met at the beginning of the year to define the topics and the calendar of the negotiations.

Commentary

The insurance sector agreement demonstrates the importance attached to social dialogue by employers’ associations within the sector. It simplifies the implementation of the 2008 law, by introducing a transitional measure of representativeness until 2013. It supports the financial transparency and strengthens the financial support offered to representative trade union organisations. Such an agreement could well inspire other professional branches to do the same.

However, the agreement did not attract the full support of the trade union movement. Force Ouvrière, which initially backed the agreement, changed its mind at the last negotiation session on 3 January because of the last-minute addition of a preamble which states that ‘the law of 20 August constitutes an important stage in the construction of social democracy…’. FO refused to sign because it thinks the 2008 law is aimed at:

…destroying the trade-union movement, of breaking union independence from employers, destroying the independent trade union confederations, that is to say – our confederation.

French trade unions are upset about the reform. However, the change can also be seen as a sign of the importance attached to the role of trade unions, plus an opportunity for them to evolve and to increase their membership.

Hélène Tissandier, HERA

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