France: latest working life developments Q2 2018

The adoption of labour market reforms, strikes in the transport sector and new leadership among the social partners 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 2018.

Labour market reforms support growth for workers and businesses

On 27 April, the government adopted a draft law covering reforms to the vocational training, apprenticeship and unemployment insurance systems.1 The aim of the reforms is to give people the freedom to choose their professional futures.

The government also adopted a bill on the growth and transformation of businesses on 18 June. This bill aims to help companies become more competitive and make it easier for them to grow. The text contains several provisions related to employment.

  • A 20% levy on the sums paid to employees through financial saving plan schemes (épargne salariale) in companies with fewer than 50 employees and through financial participation schemes (intéressement) in companies with fewer than 250 employees will be abolished.
  • All companies with a board of directors exceeding eight members (including mutual companies) must have two employee representatives on that board.
  • Corporate mandates must not be limited to the pursuit of profit, but must also consider the company’s social and environmental role.

In addition, a draft law on pensions was announced for mid-2019 after eight months of consultations with social partners and citizens.

SNCF and Air France strikes lead to unrest

The adoption of these reforms took place within a tense social climate. The second quarter of 2018 saw the longest strike in the history of France’s national public railway company (SNCF), with unions mobilising against the government’s draft railway reform law. The law is designed to prepare the national railway for passenger rail competition while also removing the ‘special status’ for new railway workers, which in the past has included jobs for life.

The strike action took an unprecedented form, with workers walking out for two days out of every five between April and June (during which time the bill was being examined in parliament). The government’s promise to take on €35 billion of the SNCF’s debt, and the adoption of amendments to the bill in agreement with union demands, ended up cracking the union front. After the new law was officially adopted by parliament on 27 June, the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) and The National Union of Autonomous Trade Unions (UNSA) indicated that they would be suspending strike action in favour of negotiation. However, the CGT Cheminots and SUD-Rail both announced new strikes for July, suggesting that the dispute will continue.

Airline company Air France also experienced ongoing industrial action during the second quarter of 2018, with a series of strike days in support of a 6% wage increase. After 11 unions refused the proposals put forward by management (a 2% increase in 2018 and 5.1% increase over three years), CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac organised a referendum for all employees on a draft agreement that included the company’s wage increase proposal. The proposal was rejected by a majority of the employees, which led to Janaillac’s resignation on 4 May. Chief Financial Officer Frédéric Gagey was subsequently named as interim CEO.

Social partners welcome new leadership

Two trade union confederations held their congresses in the second quarter of 2018. On 27 April, Workers’ Force (FO) elected Pascal Pavageau as its head, where he succeeded Jean-Claude Mailly. On 7 June, CFDT reappointed Laurent Berger as its general secretary.

On the employers' side, six candidates came forward to succeed Pierre Gattaz as President of the Movement of the Enterprises of France (MEDEF), France’s largest employer federation. After a tight competition, Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux was elected new president on 3 July, ahead of the candidate from the powerful UIMM.

1  Eurofound (2018), France: Latest working life developments – Q1 2018.

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