First workplace elections in very small enterprises

Workplace elections have been organised in France for the first time in businesses with fewer than 11 employees. The results will be combined with those of the workplace elections which took place in September 2009 and December 2012, as well as the results of elections to the chambers of agriculture. They will allow the electoral weight of each trade union organisation to be measured. This new snapshot of the French trade union landscape is due to be unveiled in August 2013.

Background

The rules on representativeness in France (FR0808039I) were reformed by the Law of 20 August 2008 (in French). The reform meant trade union organisations have to receive at least 10% of the votes cast (at company level) and 8% of votes in the sectors and on an interprofessional level in order to be recognised as representative.

These new arrangements are intended to increase the legitimacy of the industrial players and of the agreements they conclude at different levels. However, the law did not take account of companies in which there is no staff representation. This omission was remedied by Law No. 2010–1215 of 15 October 2010 (in French), which provided for elections to gauge representativeness in very small enterprises (VSEs). The new provisions allowed 4.7 million people working in VSEs with fewer than 11 employees to express their preference for a trade union organisation (FR1010011I).

Three-stage elections to measure support

Support was measured in three stages, allowing the weight of each trade union organisation to be gauged.

The first stage took place between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2012. All the results of the elections of members of works councils or, alternatively, staff delegates in enterprises with 11 or more employees were taken into account. More than eight million employees were able to vote in workplace elections held in their companies, a participation rate of 67%.

The second phase was the election targeted at companies with fewer than 11 employees and home workers. It was held from 28 November to 12 December 2012 by post or on the internet.

The final stage in January 2013 involved employees in agricultural production who are required to elect members of the chambers of agriculture.

On completion of these three stages, the results of these polls will be added up to determine the weight of the individual unions.

Results of the elections in VSEs

There was a very low participation rate of 10.38% in the elections held in very small enterprises. The trade unions blamed the way the vote was organised which asked voters to choose a trade union name rather than select an individual from lists of employee candidates. Unions also said many VSE employees did not understand what was at stake, because they were not voting to create a body responsible for representing them or negotiating directly on their behalf.

Whatever the reason for the poor turnout, the election results (in French, 209Kb PDF) put the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) in the lead with a clear margin, with 29.54% of the vote. It was followed by the French Democratic Federation of Labour (CFDT) with 19.26%, and the General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (CGT-FO), with 15.25%.

More details of the elections (in French) were revealed on the Ministry of Labour website. They showed the National Federation of Independent Unions (UNSA) took fourth place with 7.35% of the vote, ahead of the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (CFTC) (6.53%). The French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (CFE-CGC) received only 2.32% of the overall poll, but took 26.91% of the votes in the management group where it stood for election. The Independent Union – Solidarity, Unity, Democracy (SUD) received 4.75% of the vote, the Independent Labour Confederation (CAT) 2.39% and the National Confederation of Labour (CNT) 2.13%.

Chambers of agriculture results

In the elections to the chambers of agriculture, the turnout was 16.1%. On the employers’ side, the main organisation, FNSEA, retained control with 53.39% of the votes. However, what was significant was the result in the employee group, which was to be used for the first time to determine the representativeness of the trade union organisations at national level. Once again, CGT was the clear leader with 34.61%, according to the election results (in French) published on the ministry of agriculture website. Behind CGT came CFDT (23.14%), CGC (14.28%), CFTC (13.07%) and FO (9.82%). UNSA only received 2.41%.

Contrasting but generally positive reviews

Speaking about the low turnout in the VSE sector, Jean-Denis Combrexelle, Director General at the Ministry of Labour, agreed there was ‘room for improvement’ but said ‘the figure is far from insignificant’. And he added:

This is a first for an electorate historically remote from the trade union world. This is just the beginning.

The CGT expressed its satisfaction, with General Secretary Patrick Varela telling Actuel-RH (see article (in French)):

Coming first in a poll of trade unions among employees of very small enterprises is a victory, however difficult it was to reach them for campaigning.

In a press release (in French) 28 December 2012, CFDT also said it was pleased with the outcome, while FO felt it had done relatively well, taking the election conditions into account. CFTC, meanwhile, had good reason to fear losing its representative status at national level. But it told supporters in a press statement (in French) on 21 December 2012 that it refused to see its weak score as a real problem, given the low turnout.

Commentary

With a great deal at stake, the very low turnout is particularly regrettable. The elections are intended to legitimise the representativeness of trade unions by means of a ‘bottom-up approach’ from establishment to national, interprofessional level.

Instead, the low number of votes cast in the VSE sector seems likely to reduce the influence of its employees in the assessment of representativeness. Already it is clear that the system needs rethinking. However, first the Ministry of Labour must aggregate all the results and this task is expected to be completed in August 2013.

Hélène Tissandier, Université Paris-Dauphine, IR Share

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