Battle against "clandestine" employment intensifies

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Following parliamentary controversy, a law clamping down on illegal and undeclared "clandestine" employment was adopted in February 1997.

A law intensifying the battle against undeclared "clandestine" work, ("moonlighting" in English, when a second job is involved), was adopted by Parliament on 20 February. The Government's aim is to provide the authorities concerned with the means to combat a phenomenon which causes a loss of income for the Government and social security system, unfair competition between companies and instability of employment for the victims of this practice, but also encourages illegal immigration.

Such undeclared employment conceals very different practices. It varies from petty "fiddles" - such as individuals not declaring the employment of a cleaner, or vendors not registered as a businesses - to organised networks - such as sweatshops and salaried construction workers officially declared as self-employed subcontractors. The scale of these practices is by definition beyond estimation. The only available figures are the annual number of documented offences, which doubled between 1992 and 1995. Those industrial sectors most affected are construction and civil engineering, which account for 22.6 % of offences documented in 1994, the retail trade (21.3%) and hotels, cafés and restaurants (17.8%). The clothing industry sector lags far behind with 3.1%. Although foreign nationals without immigration papers are almost always, due to the very nature of their situations, employed illegally, illegal employment should not be confused with illegal immigration (even if these two terms are often lumped together in the public's mind, and also by a large number of news publications). Of the 21,543 people hired illegally in 1994, only 10 % were illegal immigrants.

Serious differences of opinion concerning the measures to be taken to combat undeclared work have arisen between Parliament and the Government. On 12 December 1996, the French National Assembly approved, under pressure from the opposition Socialists and the Communists and contrary to the wishes of the Employment Minister, a law strengthening the penalties levied on employers, and facilitating the accusation of offending contractors. Considering the amendments made by Members of Parliament to be too restrictive, employers' associations from the construction, civil engineering, distribution and transport sectors made representations to Senators. The latter adopted on 15 January 1997 a text reducing the penalties for illegal employment to a lower level than that proposed in the initial government bill. Finally, after the second reading, the National Assembly ratified the Senate's version, despite protests from the Socialist and Communist groups, for whom "there is a refusal on the part of the political majority to tackle the problem of illegal employment".

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