France: New assessment of the representativeness of the social partners

The results of the elections to determine the representativeness of unions have been announced, with the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) ousting the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) from the top position for the first time. The Movement of French Enterprises (Medef) has been named as the most representative employer organisation.

Trade unions: Results of representativeness elections

The second round of elections since the 2008 trade union representativeness reform have been held to measure trade union support at national and interprofessional level and at branch level. This measurement takes place every four years and is one of the essential criteria for establishing unions’ representativeness. A union must receive at least 8% of the votes at a workplace election to be representative at national, intersectoral and branch levels, and to allow it to sign collective agreements at both of these levels.

At the national and intersectoral level, all five organisations which were recognised as representative in 2013 have also reached the 8% threshold in the latest election. However, the order has changed: for the first time in French trade union history, the CFDT has overtaken the CGT in the private sector, although the CGT remains the trade union with the most support in the public sector. The results are:

  • French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) (26.4% of the votes);
  • General Confederation of Labour (CGT) (24.9%);
  • General Confederation of Labour–Force Ouvrière (CGT–FO) (15.6%);
  • French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff–General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (CFE–CGC ) (10.7%);
  • French Christian Workers’ Confederation (CFTC) (9.5%).

Eligibility to participate in collective bargaining

The measure of representativeness is based on a ‘relative weight’, which takes into account the results of organisations that have reached or surpassed the 8% mark. This calculation leads to a CFDT score of 30.3%, ahead of the CGT (28.6%), which makes it the only union organisation that can sign a collective agreement alone. An agreement is valid only if it is signed by one or more organisations that have received at least 30% of the votes; more than 50% is needed for agreements on working time. The weighting mechanism means that unions which just scraped over the threshold, such as the CFTC, have been deprived of the right to participate in sectoral collective bargaining. From June, the Ministry of Labour will publish decrees specifying the representativeness of the trade union organisations in each sort of activity.

Employer organisations: Representativeness of employer organisations calculated

After many years of discussion about the best way to take into account the representativeness of employer organisations, the law of 5 March 2014 introduced reform of the measurement of employers’ representativeness. For the first time, support for employer organisations was measured at national and interprofessional level and at the level of professional branches. This determines which organisations will be representative for the next four years.

The decisive criterion for assessing the representativeness of an employer organisation is whether it crosses the 8% threshold of either the number of companies belonging to all the employer organisations, or the number of employees employed by the same organisation at national, interprofessional or professional level.

The results at the national and interprofessional level for the three main employer organisations are as follows.

In terms of member companies:

  • Union of local businesses (U2P) (35.9%);
  • Confederation of Small and Medium-sized employers (CPME) (34.5%);
  • Movement of French Enterprises (Medef) (29.4%).

In terms of the number of employees:

  • Medef (70.7%);
  • CPME (25%);
  • U2P (4.2%).

The results by branch (PDF) have already been published. This measure, as already underlined in a Dares study, shows major differences in coverage between different sectors and also in the number of employees covered. U2P has the most member companies, but as these are mostly very small, it has the lowest coverage because of the size of each company’s workforce. Medef has a greater number of larger companies as affiliates so that, even with a lower proportion of affiliated companies, Medef covers a wider workforce.

According to the data for the number of members in 2015 – revised by the professional organisations, certified by their auditors and validated by the Ministry of Labour – Medef has 123,387 member companies, CPME has 144,939 and U2P 150,605. As the daily newspaper Les Echos noted, these numbers are much lower than the figures reported by employer organisations themselves.

While the first effect of the reform is to ensure transparency in the reporting of the number of members, the second effect is directly related to collective bargaining. With a representativeness of more than 70% in terms of the number of employees of companies belonging to an employer organisation, Medef is the only employer organisation to exceed the threshold of 50%, which enables it to block an interprofessional national agreement reached by the other organisations. At branch level, similarly to trade unions, some employer organisations will be excluded from collective bargaining, even though they had been participating up until now.

Finally, the calculated weight will also be used to allocate public funds to finance social dialogue and to designate advisers appointed by employer organisations to labour councils, the first level of labour jurisdiction in France.


While the results of the trade union elections were welcomed without any real challenge, the first wave of evaluation by employer organisations was disputed. U2P, which is the top organisation in terms of the number of member companies, has criticised the evaluation that only takes into account numbers of employees when determining the weight of employer organisations in the management of joint institutions. The CPME has embraced its position as the second French employer organisation. However, it has criticised the fact that the audience measure takes into account the recent merger of the UPA and UNAPL employer organisations into U2P. Only Medef has been uncritical, welcoming its position as the majority organisation at the interprofessional level.

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