France: Latest working life developments – Q2 2017

Significant and swift labour market reform, major changes in the industrial relations landscape and the high number of workers exposed to carcinogens are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in France in the second quarter of 2017.

Significant and swift labour market reform

Following an initial consultation period (PDF), from 12–22 June, with the social partners on the reform of collective bargaining, on 28 June the government adopted a so-called  ‘enabling’ bill (PDF) which, after parliamentary approval, permits it to introduce legislative measures by way of an executive decree. This is quicker than the conventional legislative process. The executive decree will fundamentally change the French system of industrial relations (PDF) by providing for the following changes:

  • decentralisation of collective bargaining by redefining the role of sectoral collective agreements while giving greater powers to company-level negotiations
  • amalgamation of all employee representative institutions in a single body which could negotiate company- or group-level agreements (in return for this simplification, the bodies would be more closely involved in the employer's decisions, while employee participation on company boards would be improved)
  • greater legal certainty for employers when they implement individual redundancies or redundancies on economic grounds, as well as greater flexibility in the conditions under which fixed-term contracts and teleworking can be used
  • the possibility for employers of linking the duration of an employment contract to that of a specific project or assignment
  • reduction in the number of sectoral collective agreements and tightening of procedures for extending collective agreements
  • regulation of posted workers.

The government will continue its consultation with the social partners over the summer and adopt the executive decrees from September onwards. The government has also launched a working group to prepare for consultation with the social partners on the reform of the unemployment benefits system, which was recently renewed by the social partners to extend the system to the self-employed and employees who have resigned from their current job. Furthermore, the government also announced a reform of the arduous work account scheme set up in 2015 by the former socialist government and sharply denounced by employer organisations. The new scheme will be called a prevention account and will withdraw four of the 10 arduous criteria (manual handling of loads, painful working positions, mechanical vibration and hazardous chemicals).

Major changes in industrial relations landscape

New labour market reforms were launched in the context of the new industrial relations landscape that emerged from the second round of representativeness elections held since the 2008 trade union representativeness reform. The elections measure trade union support at national, interprofessional and branch level. The main outcome is that the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) ousted the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) from the top position for the first time. This latest round of elections also assessed for the first time the representativeness of the employer organisations.

On working conditions in telework, on 23 May the social partners adopted a joint report containing recommendations on the legal and practical issues of this kind of work. However, social partners disagree on how these recommendations should be followed up. Unions are in favour of national collective bargaining, while employer organisations argue that companies can use the report to launch their own telework policy rather than being bound by compulsory provisions.

High number of workers exposed to carcinogens

The French National Public Health Agency has published new analyses of the data from the SUMER 2009–2010 survey on exposure to carcinogens of salaried workers in France (from a sample of 48,000 individuals). In 2009–2010, some 12% of salaried workers – nearly 2.6 million made up of 2 million men (17%) and 600,000 women (5.9%) – were exposed to at least one carcinogenic hazard (chemical and non-chemical) and around 757,000 employees had been exposed at least twice (5.7% of men and 0.9% of women). The most frequent carcinogenic hazards reported by men were diesel engine emissions, mineral oils, wood dust and crystalline silica. Women reported exposure to night work, ionising radiation, formaldehyde and cytostatic agents. This study shows that single or multiple exposures of workers to carcinogenic agents is relatively frequent in France, especially for men, and particularly in certain sectors and occupational groups, which as a result need targeted prevention of carcinogenic risks.

Commentary

The introduction of in-depth labour market reform has, up to now, been spared mass protest by unions. Although the CGT has announced demonstrations on 12 September, it seems that the consultation rounds held by the government have given unions enough guarantees to stave off strong opposition to the reforms. It is particularly important that the government intends to preserve the role of sectoral-level collective bargaining as an instrument of social and economic regulation at branch level. By avoiding a total decentralisation of collective bargaining in favour of company-level negotiations, the government has won the approval of the five confederations: Le syndicat de l'encadrement (CFE-CGC), the French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC), CFDT, Force Ouvrière (FO) and Union Nationale des Syndicats Autonomes (UNSA).

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