EADS, France: Health and well-being, exit policy
The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) is a global leader in the field of aeronautics, aerospace and defence. At the end of 2004, the company employed about 110,100 people at 70 production sites, mainly in France and Germany, but also in the United Kingdom, Spain, the US and Australia. In France, some 43,000 people, representing about 39% of the total workforce, are employed by around 40 subsidiary groups of the company, the size, features and activities of which differ widely. The group includes the leading aircraft manufacturer Airbus, which accounts for 47% of employees both in France and in the overall group.
Two important sectoral developments have occurred in recent years: in 1999, Aérospatiale, the French aerospace manufacturer, merged with another French aeronautics company, Matra Haute Technologie, to form Aérospatiale-Matra; subsequently, in 2000, the EADS group was created following the merger between Aérospatiale-Matra, the German company DaimlerChrysler Aerospace AG and the Spanish company Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA (CASA).
Due to the nature of the EADS group’s activities, a large majority of employees are men. In France, male employees make up 83% of the company’s total workforce. Moreover, the level of part-time work within the company is marginal. In terms of age structure, at the end of 2004, a significant proportion of workers were aged 40 years and over, with a marked peak recorded in workers’ average age of around 45 years – no consolidated data are available for France in this particular case. In relation to new jobs, a significant amount of recruitment has occurred in recent years, particularly in the case of Airbus.
In the former company Aérospatiale, a strong culture of social dialogue was encouraged along with a sustained policy of concluding collective agreements, which had persisted from the 1970s. This culture of promoting social dialogue has been maintained in EADS. As part of an effort to encourage discussions with trade unions regarding all of its units in France, EADS France has created positions for ‘union coordinators’. These coordinators – although not provided for under labour legislation – represent trade unions at national level and sign collective agreements.
The original initiative
Due to the merger which led to the creation of EADS, methodologies and specific tools that had been developed within some company units have been transferred to other sections of the group. This is the case, for example, in relation to demographic analyses, which had been extended to the whole of Aérospatiale at the end of the 1990s.
The establishment of EADS as a result of the merger between four companies was followed by a major reorganisation of activities and management approaches. Distinct legal entities were created, which were given a certain operational autonomy. As a consequence, a number of functions have been decentralised. This is particularly evident in relation to the improvement of working conditions and issues of occupational health, which were completely decentralised to subsidiary organisations. Overall, subsidiaries continue to pursue actions that were initiated in the 1990s, and forms of coordination and exchange between subsidiaries exist on a voluntary basis.
In a few of the group’s business units, a database called ‘EVREST’ has been established in a pilot scheme in a few establishments. Accordingly, a simple questionnaire is used by occupational health professionals during medical examinations. The questions addressed to respondents focus on working conditions – such as physical workload, risk exposure, working hours, time constraints and employees’ opinions on work – in addition to training opportunities, living conditions and health issues. It allows for a longitudinal analysis, an age analysis and the construction of a so-called ‘dashboard’ – a digital database consolidating team, corporate and external information.
Recommendations concerning ergonomics have had an impact on the conception of production processes. Posture requirements and movements have been taken into account for those working in assembly workshops on the construction of aircrafts, including construction of the new Airbus A380 double-decker aircraft.
EADS, like its predecessor Aérospatiale, has also been using early exit schemes to cope with economic developments concerning the company as a whole. In 2000, a collective agreement allowed for the early exit of workers from the age of 55 years; this agreement was renewed again in 2003. However, taking into account a number of factors – including the effects of the pension reform on working life, the growing emphasis placed on expertise and experience, along with the government’s withdrawal from the funding of early exit schemes – this practice has been discontinued. The group’s human resources (HR) policy now only allows workers to exit the labour market before reaching retirement age in exceptional circumstances.
The future prolongation of working life has led EADS management to reflect more on the role of older workers, which is quite a different perspective compared with attitudes held in the 1990s. At that time, workforce ageing was a major issue to be addressed and the focus was more on workers in the 40s age group.
Good practice today
Issues such as ergonomics and the improvement of working conditions are still considered important by the company. Ergonomics training introduced in the mid 1980s for occupational health professionals and engineers still takes places within EADS. Moreover, a strong presence of occupational health professionals is still evident.
However, a reverse trend has been emerging in recent years, whereby early exit from the labour market is now an exception in the group’s HR policy. Two particular collective agreements for the group clarify this new orientation:
- Provisions for an ‘end-of-career scheme’ were introduced by a collective agreement concluded in December 2000, allowing for the early exit of workers aged between 55 and 65 years. Although the agreement was renewed in May 2003, the scheme is only to be used in the event of economic difficulties, which might force the group subsidiaries in France to implement a redundancy plan. These early exit schemes, which are financed entirely by the company, depend on the willingness of both the employer and the employee to pursue such an option. Thus, early exit schemes are not widely available in the company.
- Otherwise, the agreement on the ‘development of the later part of the career’, signed in February 2005, is relevant.
Both collective agreements have no expiry date and concern group employees in France.
The agreement on the ‘development of the later part of the career’ is directly tied to the 2003 pension reform and to the discontinuation of early exit arrangements within the group, with the exception of redundancy plans. The agreement aims to change the perceptions and behaviours of various actors within the company, such as staff, trade unions and management, in relation to the second part of people’s careers. Signed before the conclusion of national intersectoral bargaining on the employment of older workers in October 2005, this agreement covers all aspects linked to retaining workers in employment and to career progression. The agreement envisages proposals for a set of provisions directed at subsidiaries to cope with the extension of working life. These plans would include the following measures:
- Some of the measures to be enforced immediately include real policy commitments. This relates, in particular, to banning age discrimination regarding wage progression, promotion and training opportunities. The company is planning an assessment of these three topics.
- Other measures aim to bring about a cultural change with regard to the later stages of people’s careers. The ‘stage professional assessment’ (bilan professionnel d’étape) of skills transmission and mentoring, working conditions and occupational health addresses this issue in particular. This assessment is aimed at the design of individual development projects for the next five years for workers aged 45 years. It will be renewed every fifth year until these workers reach the age of 60 years. Moreover, a specific analysis concerning people aged 50 years and over will be integrated in the annual report on working conditions, along with the annual programme for preventing occupational hazards and improving working conditions, and the annual report of occupational health professionals. A specific medical assessment is planned for those aged 55 years and over.
- Finally, certain planned provisions permit the prolongation of working life with various forms of end-of-career adjustments. Four types of adjustments may be implemented in the group’s French subsidiaries, or possibly throughout the entire group. These adjustments include the following provisions:
- end-of-career leave for a maximum of 18 months, using the existing ‘time-savings account’ (compte épargne temps) which capitalises on entitlement to paid leave of absence;
- an adjustment of working hours during the three-year period preceding retirement, on a weekly, monthly or annual basis;
- a working time reduction during the three-year period leading up to retirement. The payment for retirement will be calculated on a full-time basis. Five categories of employees may receive additional compensation in the form of 10% extra pay and the option to have employer pension contributions paid on a full-time basis: those working nights or doing shift work for at least 15 years, people who have a disability resulting from a workplace accident, workers with an occupational disease, those who have had a long career and disabled workers;
- financial assistance enabling employees to ‘buy back’ three-month periods of pension contributions in respect of years spent studying (in the case of a loan, interest is partly paid by the company); this option has been provided for under the 2003 Pension Reform Act. It is envisaged that such assistance might encourage people to buy back contributions submitted for these years, which increases validated work activity duration and allows people to retire earlier.
The agreement on the ‘development of the later part of the career’ was due to come into effect in 2006. Consultation with the trade unions was expected to take place regarding the implementation of the agreement and its follow-up measures. The implementation of this agreement represents an important challenge for both the senior management of the company and the trade unions, requiring effective communication concerning all aspects of its requirements. Moreover, subsidiaries maintain different practices regarding HR management and the attention paid to age issues in line with their activities and experience in this regard. To date, no opportunities have arisen for harmonising these practices. However, the implementation of the agreement will also depend on a real change in HR practices. Indicators were therefore set to be defined in 2006 to assess these developments.