Social partners set social agenda for 2011

Agreements on harassment and violence at work, and on pension reform have been signed in France in the past 12 months. The social partners are now preparing to launch their work programme for 2011, which sets out more than 11 topics they hope to address. However, although the agenda seems full, the social partners’ objectives remain vague. Negotiations could also be hampered by the 2012 French presidential elections and by a planned evaluation of union representativeness.

Agreeing the agenda

The joint social agenda (in French, 10Kb PDF) was agreed after several bilateral meetings between the biggest French employers’ federation, the French Enterprise Movement (MEDEF), and the five confederations of workers:

  • the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT);
  • the General Confederation of Labour (CGT);
  • the General Confederation of Labour – Force Ouvrière (CGT-FO);
  • the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (CFE-CGC);
  • the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (CFTC).

There was also a final meeting on 10 January 2011 where employer organisations and trade unions, with the exception of CGT, agreed that priority in the agenda should be given to youth employment and agreeing ‘effective measures for all categories of employees’.

The agenda incorporates four major themes proposed by MEDEF President Laurence Parisot in his letter to the confederations on 14 December (in French). These are:

  • employment;
  • social protection;
  • social dialogue;
  • life at work.

The negotiators have planned to meet once a week, and a monitoring committee will be responsible for recording the discussions. Discussions and negotiations are expected to spill over into 2012.

Focus for the first half of 2011

During this period talks will centre on the following issues.

  • Tackling youth unemployment: according to the text, negotiations ought quickly to lead to concrete measures, especially on housing, transportation, food, counselling and internships. Access to the labour market for young people must be increased and in this context the negotiators will consider the need for increasing the solidarity between generations, especially through tutoring.
  • Renegotiation of agreement on unemployment insurance: the two-year National Convention on unemployment insurance (in French), signed on 19 February 2009, now needs to be renegotiated. Talks began on this on 24 January. Social partners seem to generally agree about the agreement’s renewal as it has notably improved the income of employees who have agreed to short-time working. However, given the demands of CGT for a complete overhaul of the agreement and the government’s desire to generalise the Contract of employment transition (CTP), discussions on the subject will not be straightforward.
  • The role of the Association for Executive Employment (APEC): the association is no longer the preferred provider of the scheme that assists unemployed executives, ‘Pôle emploi’, and its role must be clarified. Initial negotiations were held on 21 December 2010 and a timetable for future discussions has now been set for 2011. This is a fundamental issue for CFE-CGC.
  • Supplementary pension schemes, AGIRC-ARRCO: these negotiations began on 21 December 2010 and will continue until March 2011.
  • Modernisation of social dialogue: negotiations on this issue began in 2009 as part of the discussion on the modernisation of social dialogue and representative bodies. However, discussions stalled due to the refusal of CGT, through fear of a reduction of the rights of representative bodies, to continue in the discussions. The last meeting was held on 13 January.
  • The modernisation of ‘paritarism’ – a form of self-organisation of social relationships which, on the basis of equal negotiations, brings about agreements which are equally binding on both employers and employees. Discussions on this system were launched at a meeting on 11 January.
  • Assessment of the career of the professional: the 2011 social agenda also includes the beginning of collective bargaining over the ‘bilan d’étape professionel’, a scheme that allows employees to take stock of their career. The scheme was included in the Law on career guidance and lifelong vocational training of 24 November 2009 (in French) (FR0912019I), and was initiated by the National intersectoral agreement (in French, 49Kb PDF) of 14 November 2008 on the management of jobs and skills.

Finally, the text agreed by the social partners highlights the financing of social protection in the context of the current financial situation.

Focus for the second half of 2011

During this period talks will centre on the following issues.

  • Modernisation of the labour market: an assessment and evaluation of the national agreement of 11 January 2008 on the modernisation of the labour market (FR0803039Q), particularly Articles 10 and 14, could lead to a new debate on employment and career security.
  • Quality of working life: the social partners intend to address ways of reconciling professional and personal life, working conditions and gender equality.
  • Employment of older workers: the social partners wish to assess the effectiveness of the national intersectoral agreement of 13 October 2005, and other sectoral agreements and company agreements on the employment of older workers.

Reactions of the social partners

Asked about the agenda, Benoit Roger-Vasselin, leader of the employer’s delegation from MEDEF, said: ‘We are pleased with the result’. This was echoed by CFDT, CFTC, CGT-FO and CFE-CGC. However, in a statement (in French), CGT announced its disappointment, stating that ‘the finalised text is unrelated to the social expectations, which have been widely and massively expressed by employees and included strikes and demonstrations last autumn.’ CGT’s demands that the talks should also focus on the volume of employment and recruitment plans of the companies were simply rejected by the representative of MEDEF. However, MEDEF President Laurence Parisot announced, during the pension reform, ‘simultaneous progress in employment rates of older and young people’. CGT will assess on a ‘case by case’ basis whether its presence is useful during future negotiations. 

Commentary

Although the agenda seems full, the real ambitions of each partner and their objectives remain vague. Furthermore, two events could hinder these negotiations; the presidential elections in 2012, and the planned evaluation of the representativeness of trade unions. After these events, dialogue between the executive and the major unions may be limited and difficult, especially in the context of fiscal austerity. There is little possibility that the government will consider any major reforms. Moreover, the conflict over the reform of pensions (FR1007021I) has altered the relationship between the French President Nicolas Sarkozy and CFDT, which now appears to focus on a return of the Socialist Party to government in 2012. In addition, Bernard Thibault, the General Secretary of CGT, has developed a hardline policy towards the government in an effort to reassure the union’s membership. As for MEDEF, there are doubts over whether it can negotiate within the context of a very slow economic recovery.

Hélène Tissandier, HERA

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