France: Latest working life developments – Q3 2017

Reforms to unemployment insurance, vocational training and apprenticeships, new rules on the representativeness of trade unions, and growing concern about emerging forms of employment 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 2017.

A debate which is not slowing the pace of reforms

The development of the new labour law reform continued during the third quarter of 2017, culminating in the publication of five ordinances on 22 September. This followed protests by the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) which organised a day of mobilisation on 12 September, with the French group of trade unions Solidaires (SUD). This met with limited support from their members, but the CGT’s stance led to some members of the four other national trade union confederations joining the demonstration, plus another demonstration on 21 September, despite their original decisions not to take to the streets.

Nevertheless, the government intends to forge ahead with its reforms, announcing in the summer a reform of unemployment insurance. Its aim is to extend the scheme to self-employed workers and to employees who have resigned after five years of working with the same employer. In October, proposed changes in vocational training and apprenticeships were also announced. After a six-month consultation with social partners, the government will present its bill followed by an action plan in spring 2018.

Rapid transformation of industrial relations

The shape of the industrial relations landscape is being reorganised. In July 2017, the government started to publish statements designating representative trade union organisations within each sector. This is the second time, since the reform of trade union representativeness in 2008, that the representativeness of unions has been measured in sectors. From now on, federations who have not reached the threshold of 8% of votes are excluded from branch-level collective bargaining, even if they belong to a confederation which is representative at national level.

It was also the first time that the representativeness of employer organisations was measured – the results of this survey (PDF) were also published by the government in July. This has led to mergers between employer organisations in order to avoid being ousted from collective bargaining in their sector. The industrial relations landscape is also being shaken up by the acceleration of sector restructuring which began in 2015. This restructuring cuts the number of sectors from more than 700 to just 100. One of the ordinances allows the Minister of Labour to merge sectors from 10 August 2018, instead of 10 August 2019. In addition, the latest collective bargaining report (PDF), published by the Ministry of Labour, highlights a reduction in the number of agreements reached in the sectors in 2016 and an increase in the number of company agreements.

Growing concerns about workers in the on-demand sector

Some 2,250 people are directly employed by on-demand platforms, according to a study published by the Ministry of Labour on 9 August 2017. These people, along with their self-employed workers, generated sales of €7 billion (or 0.3% of France’s GDP in 2015).

The Human Rights League has called for a multiparty conference to regulate the home delivery sector. The government wants a regulatory framework to prevent abuse and is forcing the platforms to pay for certain social protection expenses for their self-employed workers from January 2018. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has asked the Economic, Social and Environmental Council to look at the social guarantees of self-employed workers in terms of social protection, training and labour laws. The Minister of Labour, Muriel Pénicaud, is very much in favour of social partners taking part in interprofessional negotiations on emerging forms of work.

Commentary

The general objective of the labour market reform is to reduce the mass unemployment that has persisted in France since the 1980s. The reform of the Labour Code is clearly in favour of employers, but the government will now try to demonstrate that the weakening of labour law protections will ultimately be compensated for by new unemployment insurance reforms and vocational training. The government has been forced to unveil its ‘social’ measures in the face of public sector trade unions organising a day of demonstrations on 10 October, and the feelings expressed by citizens that the government’s reforms amount to tax gifts for the rich.

 

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