France: Latest working life developments – Q2 2016

Adoption of the new labour code, the failure of collective bargaining on unemployment schemes and a study on the negative impact of night work are among the main points of interest of this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in France in the second quarter of 2016.

Labour code reform adopted despite strong opposition

In a context of slight improvement in the economic outlook and the unemployment situation, a bill on the labour code reform was presented to Parliament, sparking strong mobilisation of opposition to the reform from the trade unions – the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), Force Ouvrière (FO), Solidaires, the Unitary Union Federation (FSU) – and students’ organisations.

The National Assembly has been examining the bill since April. The government bypassed Parliament and secured the bill’s passage through its first and second readings by invoking Article 49.3 of the French constitution, rather than by allowing Parliament to vote on it. Because a majority of MPs did not support a motion of censure against the government, the text was considered to be adopted and the bill finally became law (PDF) on 21 July.

In protest, students’ organisations and trade unions organised several demonstrations across France. Strikes were organised at some strategic sites and sectors such as oil refineries, public transport, road transport and nuclear power stations., although many of these actions were mainly about internal issues and to support negotiations on wages (Air France) or on a new national collective agreement (in the rail transport sector). For the trade unions opposing the reform bill – including CGT, FO, FSU and Solidaires – the main stumbling block was the reversal of the normal legislative hierarchy. The new bill heralds a wide-ranging reform that aims to give company-level agreements precedence over those at sectoral level or over relevant legislation where the law itself allows. The aim is to decentralise collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining on unemployment schemes

Collective bargaining took place at national and sectoral level alongside the protests against labour code reform.

Social partners failed for the first time since the 1980s to revise the unemployment insurance scheme that they manage under the bipartite institution Unedic. The government has decided to extend the current agreement on the functioning of the unemployment scheme until a new agreement is signed.

Social partners in the live performance sector agreed on 28 April to revise the unemployment scheme for live performance artists and technicians (intermittent du spectacle).

Within the framework of railway liberalisation that is currently underway, social partners signed two new agreements covering all employees in the railway sector who work for the SNCF Group or for private competitors. Their aim is to prevent social dumping and unfair competition. The most controversial of the two agreements focuses on working time organisation. Details of the agreements are summarised in a press release (PDF) from the Public Transport and Rail Union (UTP).

Union congress and employer organisations representativeness

The 51st Congress of the CGT was held on 19–23 April. Philippe Martinez, the fiercest opponent of the bill on labour code reform, was re-elected Secretary General.

The confederation representing technicians and managers, CFE-CGC, held its congress in May. The new leader, François Hommeril, placed the organisation among the reform’s critics, reversing the stance of the previous management that had supported the pro-reform unions – the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), the French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC) and the National Federation of Independent Unions (UNSA) – which had accepted the latest draft presented by the government.

On the employers’ side, the three main employers’ organisations – the Movement of French Enterprises (Medef), the General Confederation of Small and Medium Enterprises (CGPME) and the Craftworkers’ Employers’ Association (UPA) – signed an agreement of the representativeness of employer organisations (PDF).

Negative impact of night work

A study emphasising the negative impact of night work (PDF) on the health of employees was published in June. The study, carried out by experts from the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES), highlights the proven risks of sleep disorders, metabolic disorders, potential carcinogenic effects, and the risks of cardiovascular disorders and psychological problems among workers exposed to night work.

Move to protect whistleblowers

On 14 June, the National Assembly passed the first reading of draft legislation that would, for the first time, offer legal protection for whistleblowers (Projet de loi Sapin 2).


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