France: Latest working life developments – Q3 2016

Adoption of a major labour law reform, problems over negotiations on the national collective agreement on unemployment insurance and the continuing fight against the illegal posting of workers are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in France in the third quarter of 2016.

Mixed reactions to new labour law

As expected, the law on employment, the modernisation of social dialogue and safeguarding career paths was adopted by Parliament on 21 July after lengthy discussions and much campaigning by the trade unions. This significant labour law reform covers working time, social dialogue, redundancy and incapacity. Trade unions have been particularly opposed to Article 2 which is intended to establish that company agreements on working time take precedence over agreements made at branch level.

Although the length of the working week remains at 35 hours, the law contains several measures that offer some flexibility. These include:

  • fixing the additional payment for overtime hours (with a statutory additional payment of 10% where there is no agreement);
  • the possibility of exceeding the maximum length of the working day (up to a limit of 12 hours) or of exemption from the minimum daily rest period.

More than 100 decrees need to be passed to enable all the provisions in this reform to be enacted. It precedes an extensive revision of the Labour Code that will also give priority to collective bargaining at company level.

Some trade unions, including the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and Workers’ Force (FO) were strongly opposed to the reform. Their main concern is the reversal of the normal legislative hierarchy. Furthermore, the law is setting minimum standards that can be improved only by sectoral or company-level agreements, although it allows exemptions to be introduced by agreements at these levels.

Unions were also fighting the new, more flexible, legal definition of redundancy on economic grounds. However, more ‘reformist’ organisations such as the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), the French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC), the French Confederation of Management–General Confederation of Executives (CFE-CGC) and the National Union of Autonomous Trade Unions (UNSA) felt the law could be a new guarantee for workers and provide fresh opportunities to improve social democracy. CFDT is partially in favour of the reform because it contains the creation of a new scheme: the individual occupational account (compte personnel d’activité). This scheme aims to bring together, in a single account, all the rights accruing to an individual worker, which can be transferred from one employer to the next and used during a period of unemployment. CFDT also feels that the decentralisation of collective bargaining gives legitimacy to the trade union representatives based at the site, and that this is more democratic because the process is closer to those directly affected by the agreement.

Negotiations on unemployment insurance halted

In June, the social partners at interprofessional level halted the negotiations on renewing the national collective agreement on the unemployment scheme which ended on 30 June 2016. It was extended by a governmental decree of 30 June, and the government has asked the social partners to reopen the negotiations. The unions CFDT and CFTC are in favour of the negotiations, as are the Employers’ Association (UPA) and the General Confederation of Small and Medium Enterprises (CGMPE). However, MEDEF, the main employer organisation, is reluctant to negotiate as the government is calling on the social partners to increase the social contribution payments for short-term employment contracts.

Sanctions for illegal posting of workers

There are also an increasing number of sanctions for the illegal posting of workers, according to a report (PDF) presented on 14 September to the National Committee on the Fight against Fraud. The report shows a sharp increase in the number of inspections carried out by the labour inspectorate, with more than 2,000 operations per month in 2016, compared with 500 in 2015. The government continues to be very active in fighting the illegal posting of workers.

Agreement on digitalisation by Orange

A company-level agreement, on the impact of digitalisation on the workforce, was signed by communications group Orange. This introduces, for the first time in a major French group, the right for workers to switch off electronic devices and not check their emails, as a way of ensuring that compulsory rest periods are respected.


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