Film industry finally strikes collective agreement

After years of negotiations, the French film industry has struck a deal on a collective agreement covering workers in the sector. On 8 October 2013, the social partners in the industry signed an amendment to the latest collective agreement. It had originally been signed in January 2012, but by only one of the employer organisations. The deal came into force after seven years of discussions and months of difficulties between the social partners and the French government. .

Background

In 2003, after a protracted industrial dispute in the French film industry, the social partners in the live performance and audio-visual sectors were asked to clarify and simplify their collective bargaining system (FR1202041Q). Both sectors make extensive use of short-term employment contracts. The request to reform their bargaining procedures came from the Ministry of Labour, which also asked the sectors to negotiate eight national collective agreements, including one covering film production.

New agreement signed

Almost ten years later, the new National collective agreement for film production (in French) was signed on 19 January 2012. It was signed by all the unions in the sector except the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT). On behalf of employers, it was signed only by the Association of Independent Producers (API) which represents the four major film production companies in France – Gaumont, MK2, Pathé and UGC.

The collective agreement harmonises a number of practices, contains improvements in working conditions and fixes minimum wages for the various professions within the sector, including technicians and directors.

Employer opposition

Four employer organisations opposed the deal. They represent smaller independent production companies which collectively account for 95% of all French films. These are the French Association of Film Producers (AFPF), the Association of film producers (APC), the Union of Independent Producers (SPI) and the Union of Film Producers (UPF).

One of the main reasons for their opposition to the agreement is the related increase in labour costs which they consider would jeopardise the production of low-budget films. The four organisations published an impact assessment of the new collective agreement. It claims the deal will ‘directly threaten 20,000 employees on short-term contracts each year’ and increase ‘the salaries of technicians working on movies with budgets of less than €7 million by between 20% and 120%’.

Further negotiations

Extension of agreement

In France, the usual practice is for the terms of a collective agreement to be compulsorily extended to cover all employees and employers in the sector. The signatories to the new agreement asked the Ministry of Labour to extend the agreement to the entire film production sector.

On 15 March 2013, the Ministry of Culture told the social partners that the Ministry of Labour planned to introduce an order for an extension by 1 July 2013. This decision was criticised by the four employer organisations opposed to the deal and they issued a joint press release (in French, 55.4 KB PDF) announcing they had decided to terminate their participation in all existing tripartite bodies within the sector.

In April 2013, the government appointed an Ombudsman to help the social partners find a solution before the extension came into force. In an interim report presented to the social partners on 16 June 2013, the Ombudsman stressed that the agreement would increase production costs for films with a budget of less than €1 million by between 70% and 80%.

Despite the efforts of the Ombudsman, the social partners failed to reach agreement and the Ministry of Labour made an extension order on 1 July 2013, which was due to come into force on 1 October 2013. The purpose of the three-month delay in implementing it was to give the social partners further time to negotiate an amendment to certain provisions of the agreement ‘to better reflect the situation of the most economically fragile film production companies’.

Extension suspended

In August 2013, the four employer organisations started legal action in the administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat, to suspend the extension of the new agreement. The move was supported by the union CFDT, the only union in the sector to oppose the agreement.

On 6 September 2013, the court granted the request for a suspension of the extension on two grounds. In their ruling (in French), the judges expressed doubts about the representativeness of API. The organisation represents only four companies which employ only 5% of the sector’s workforce and are collectively responsible for only 1% of the total number of French films. Secondly, the judges felt the agreement would have a negative economic impact. They also said any mechanism specifically to help nullify the effect of the agreement on the low-budget film sector, as stipulated in the agreement, would not come into force on 1 October 2013.

Negotiation of an amendment

The social partners eventually reached agreement on 8 October 2013. The signatories to the original agreement introduced a number of new provisions in a revised amendment (2.94MB PDF) of the deal.

It was agreed that for small films with budgets of less than €1 million, the parties have a period of six months to negotiate a solution. The amendment sets out the criteria under which films with a budget of less than €3.6 million are exempt from some provisions of the deal, which is ultimately conditional on the agreement of a commission composed of the social partners.

The main union, the Union of Audio-visual and Film Industry Professionals (SPIAC-CGT) approved the amendment. However, it criticised the government in a press release for what it saw as ministers’ heavy handedness in influencing the final outcome.

Commentary

This is the first time a collective agreement has covered the entire film production industry and the various occupations within it such as actors, technicians and directors.

The government played something of an interventionist role. It restricted the usual autonomy of the social partners in order to force through the implementation of a collective agreement and the extension of a production tax credit – from 20% to 30% of eligible expenditure – for films with a budget of less than €4 million, in order to ease the final negotiations.

Ten years after making its original demand for a collective agreement in the sector, the Ministry of Labour has finally achieved its objective.

Frédéric Turlan, IR Share

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