EDF, France: Integration into the labour market of people at risk of exclusion – people with disabilities
French energy company Électricité de France has implemented a long-term policy aimed at integrating and supporting people with disabilities. Based primarily on collective agreements at company level, the policy includes both quantitative and qualitative measures. The implementation of this policy involves all actors of the company, including senior management, worker representatives and employees. A special department is devoted to monitoring the implementation of the policy measures while closely cooperating with all levels of the company.
Électricité de France (EDF SA) is a French, partly state-owned company which operates in the field of electricity generation, distribution and supply. EDF SA is also the parent company of the EDF Group, which includes 75 subsidiaries around the world and which is one of the leading players in the European energy market. EDF provides energy services to 40.2 million customers worldwide and to 28 million customers in France. In 2005, the group’s turnover amounted to €30,126 million. The main challenge the company faces today is the complete deregulation of the European energy market on 1 July 2007.
In December 2004, EDF employed 110,561 workers. Most of these workers (109,463 in 2004) are employed under particular conditions which pertain to the specific legal status of workers in the electricity sector (Decree of 22 June 1946). When looking at the gender distribution of EDF’s workforce, figures for 2004 reveal that 22.1% of the employees were women and 77.9% were men. EDF maintains social dialogue with the trade unions and worker representatives. In 2004, five collective agreements were concluded at company level, including one agreement on professional equality between men and women. EDF is also committed to a number of socially responsible actions. This is in line with the group’s adoption in January 2005 of an agreement on corporate social responsibility across the 11 countries where it has a significant presence.
Description of the initiative
The integration of people with disabilities in the company is mainly implemented through collective bargaining at company level. By 2006, seven collective agreements had been concluded on this topic; all of these collective agreements are based on the French Labour Code (Article L.323-8-1). This text allows companies to comply with the legal obligation to employ people with disabilities by concluding collective agreements at sectoral, group or company level. The French regulation is meant to encourage companies to define and implement policies aimed at integrating people with disabilities into their workforce. Such agreements have to be approved by the public authorities. EDF signed the last such company-level agreement which includes quantitative and qualitative measures on 30 March 2006; the agreement covers the period 2006–2008. As for the quantitative provisions, the company has undertaken to recruit at least 4% of workers with disabilities between 2006 and 2008, but the qualitative provisions of the agreement are probably the most important ones. These include in particular the following provisions.
- Every disabled worker recruited by the company may benefit from personal support, if they wish. Dedicated teams or workers can therefore facilitate the disabled worker’s integration into the company, which may result in adapting the workplace to the worker’s special needs.
- A main objective of the agreement is to keep workers with disabilities in employment. It can be related to the situation of a worker after an accident but, more generally, it aims to monitor the whole career path of a disabled worker (especially in the case of occupational or geographical mobility). With regard to the problems a worker may face, the agreement seeks early detection of any such problems and quick and appropriate solutions to them. Once again, this can mean an adaptation of the workplace.
- Create and offer training opportunities for disabled workers.
- To implement such provisions, the involvement of all actors within the company is required. EDF thus plans actions to increase awareness of disabilities; this involves targeted communication, such as the setting up of an intranet website on this topic which is an ongoing measure. Another important issue is to create such awareness among managers in each of the company’s operational units.
It should be noted that this agreement also provides for completing the implementation of measures decided prior to the agreement. For instance, the company aims to increase the recruitment of apprentices with disabilities. In order to meet this objective while satisfying the company’s needs, EDF plans to strengthen its relationships with vocational training centres (Centre de formation d’Apprentis, CFA) and to develop adapted technical training programmes.
Relationships between management and worker representatives seem highly cooperative on this issue. All but one of the trade unions represented in EDF signed the last collective agreement; the one union failing to sign the agreement most probably did so due to its disagreement with the company’s general recruitment policy and not because of disagreeing with the recruitment of disabled workers. All trade unions had signed the previous agreement, which was prepared by working groups comprising managers and worker representatives.
A dedicated body, the Mission d’insertion des personnes handicapées, monitors the implementation of the policy aimed at integrating disabled workers into the workforce at company level. This body supports the operational units of EDF through guidelines and with the expertise of a small team, composed of:
- one person in charge of following the regulations on the topic;
- one person devoted to recruitment and integration issues;
- one person in charge of awareness-raising actions;
- two disabled workers who participate in the team’s work; both of these persons are particularly important due to their personal knowledge of disability.
The department’s daily work is carried out in close cooperation with one of the counsellors of the EDF chair, who is in charge of following up the company’s social responsibility policies. The team also works directly with worker representatives in the operational units, who communicate company information at local level, such as disseminating a collective agreement concluded at company level. At the same time, these representatives also communicate information on the operational units to the Mission. Furthermore, the department cooperates with occupational doctors.
Collective agreements at company level are implemented in cascading order in EDF, that is, the company’s different operational units have to conclude local collective agreements. Thus, each unit manager is responsible for the implementation of company-level agreements at unit level.
Overall, the company’s integration policy seems to be increasingly focused on a qualitative approach while the quantitative results are rather good. In 2003, the employment rate of people with disabilities at EDF GDF (Gaz de France) amounted to 6% of the total workforce; this figure included workers maintained in employment. The employment rate has increased continuously in recent years. The measures implemented deal with all types of disabilities, including mental disabilities. The company is fully aware that the integration of disabled workers is not merely about recruitment, but also requires vigilance with regard to the existing workforce – for instance, to allow people to maintain employment should they ever become disabled, and to ensure that occupational or geographical mobility will work well. This implies the involvement of all actors in the company, and thus highlights the importance of awareness-raising actions addressed to human resources directors, managers and workers in the operational units. The current collective agreement provides for different actions, each of which focuses on a particular disability such as deafness or blindness. Another important element is to offer each disabled worker personal support, if desired. The measures implemented are part of a long-term company policy.
The key elements for success most likely relate to: company values; a long-term policy negotiated with all actors and in particular with the trade unions; a strong involvement of senior management in the implementation of the integration policy, including the personal involvement of the company chair and of one of his counsellors; the existence of a specifically dedicated department at company level; and a regular following up of the measures implemented.
Today, EDF wishes to foster awareness regarding disability within the company culture at all levels, despite ongoing market deregulation. It also wants to expand its objectives to the company’s subsidiaries by defining common principles, while taking into account the local situation.
Exemplary and contextual factors
Since 1990, EDF has been implementing a global policy aimed at integrating people with disabilities into its workforce. Currently, the company is implementing a purchase policy for organisations employing disabled workers, which amounts to €8.5 million annually for the years 2006, 2007 and 2008. It also subsidises the EDF Foundation, which helps to improve services provided to disabled customers and funds a lot of research in the field. Being a public-services company, solidarity is one of EDF’s key values, despite the fact that it operates in an increasingly competitive market.
Christophe Tessier, Université européenne du travail, Paris