1996 works council election results published

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In autumn 1998, the French Ministry for Employment published the results of the two-yearly works council elections that took place in 1996. Turn-out among employees was slightly down on the 1994 elections, while medium-term trends in support for the candidates of the various trade unions were maintained.

The Ministry for Employment published in autumn 1998 the results of the works council elections that took place in 1996 ( "Les élections aux comités d'entreprises en 1996", DARES, in Premières Informations, 98-08 no 35.1). Works council s or comités d'entreprisemust be established in private sector companies with over 50 employees. They are joint bodies, made up of both the head of the company and employee representatives, which have a range of information, consultation and other rights. Elections of employee representatives are held every two years on the date marking the anniversary of the creation of the works council in the particular enterprise or establishment. Every year there is thus a constant flow of elections and the Ministry publishes statistics on the elections held each year. The 1996 elections were comparable with those that took place in 1994.

Return to lower turn-outs

Turn-out among employees was slightly down in the 1996 elections, dropping from 66.8% in 1994 to 66.3%. Turn-out remains therefore lower than during the period 1970 to 1980 when it remained substantially above 70%. Many works councils were created at that time, especially in smaller enterprises or establishments. The drop in turn-out began in 1982 - paradoxically, it was at this very time that legislation was passed (the "Auroux" laws) which strengthened works councils' powers of intervention. This downward trend in turn-out continued until 1990 when a low of 65% was recorded. A recovery in electoral participation recorded over several two-year mandate periods came to an end in 1994.

Medium-term trends in union support confirmed

The table below sets out the results of comparable works council elections from 1980 to 1996, indicating the votes received by candidates, broken down in terms of their union (or non-union) affiliation. Analysis of the results obtained by the five trade union confederation s deemed representative at national level, indicates that medium-term trends are borne out. The CGT has continued to lose ground, although more slowly since 1992. The CFDT has almost drawn level with the CGT by accelerating gains which it started to make in 1992 after a long period of gradual decline. The other three main confederations have maintained the positions they have occupied since the beginning of the decade but remain far behind the two leading unions.

Non-union candidates have seen their gains, made over the last 20 years, checked. They have lost considerable ground to the major union confederations in the smallest companies.

The "other unions" have recorded small overall gains among voters. These gains are much more noticeable when the SNCF railway concern is included in the calculations. The consequences of the 1995 labour disputes can be felt here. The positions adopted by the CFDT have resulted in a split in the railway workers' union, which has favoured the setting up of independent unions, affiliated to Solidaires, unitaires et démocratiques (SUD), which in 1996 recorded significant electoral gains over the organisation to which they formerly belonged.

Works council election results, 1980-96
Candidates' affiliation % of votes cast (excluding SNCF*) % of votes cast (including SNCF*)
. 1980 1992 1994 1996 1994 1996
CGT 36.5 22.7 22.4 22.0 24.1 23.6
CFDT 21.3 19.5 20.3 21.6 20.8 21.5
CFTC 2.9 4.0 4.1 4.4 4.3 4.5
CGT-FO 11.0 12.6 12.7 12.5 12.2 12.1
CFE-CGC 6.0 6.3 6.0 6.2 5.6 5.8
Other unions 5.0 6.0 6.2 6.4 6.8 7.3
Non-union 16.8 28.8 28.4 27.0 26.1 25.1

Source:"Les élections aux comités d'entreprises en 1996", DARES, in Premières Informations, 98-08 no 35.1.

* The SNCF railway, where hundreds of thousands of workers elect works councils, moved its elections from odd to even years in 1992. It is eliminated from the earlier statistical data series in order that comparisons can be drawn - this also indicates the strong electoral change that has taken place in SNCF.

Commentary

The usefulness of the results of these elections, published two years after the elections actually took place, suffers particularly this year in light of the fact that elections of employee representatives on Conseils de prud'hommes, or industrial tribunals, were held in December 1997 (FR9712185F). The prud'hommes elections also involve private sector workers, but in this case irrespective of the number of employees in their company. Therefore, in assessing both the support for trade unions and changes within it, there are two measurements of problematic compatibility. Comparison between the two types of elections highlights especially the difference in turn-out. Turn-out in works council elections is double that of industrial tribunal elections and is dropping off less rapidly. "Local" elections would seem to be favoured by workers.

Throughout the electoral history of works councils, comparison has been a difficult task. By definition, each set of figures examines only one electoral year - ie only half the potential voters - meaning that results should be interpreted carefully. Officials at the Ministry of Employment themselves call for care to be exercised in commentaries on the results, due to persistent difficulties encountered in gathering data. Changes to the electoral process implemented in 1993 (the setting up of "single delegations" in companies employing fewer than 200 workers) are also being integrated into the results. Furthermore, changes are traditionally only very slight.

Two indications of change can, though, be drawn from the figures, which in order to become valid require comparison with further data.

  • The Ministry of Employment notes that "lists of non-union candidates are making gains only in companies employing between 500 and 1,000 workers and are declining elsewhere," especially in companies with workforces of 200 or fewer. However, they have traditionally had their power bases in this latter type of company and remain strong there.
  • In companies in the public sector, such as SNCF, the CFDT has lost 5.6 percentage points of support, while the CGT and "other unions" have gained 1.0 and 5.0 points respectively. However, the CFDT has made significant progress in the private sector ( 1.4 points) while the CGT and other unions have lost 0.6 and 0.8 points respectively.

These signs are interesting, coming as they do at a time of more numerous negotiations in private companies, in particular in relation to incentive measures for reducing working time (FR9806113F). Union support is often essential in such negotiations. (Christian Dufour, Ires)

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