Workers in performing arts take action over unemployment benefit plans

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Workers in the performing arts have been protesting about threats to their special unemployment benefit scheme arising from employers' positions in the recent renewal of the agreement on the general UNEDIC scheme.

Workers in the performing arts (the intermittents du spectacle) have their own unemployment benefit system. This was recently jeopardised by the stand taken by the CNPF (Conseil national du patronat français) employers' confederation during the December 1996 talks on the renewal of the agreement on the general UNEDIC (Union Nationale interprofessionnelle pour l'Emploi dans l'Industrie et le Commerce) unemployment insurance scheme.

When the UNEDIC agreement was renewed in December 1996, management and unions did not reach agreement on a new version of the unemployment benefits system specific to artists and technicians in show business (film production, radio, television, theatre and other show business industries). These 100,000 or so workers are ineligible for unemployment benefit unless they have worked for 507 hours (or received 43 one-off payments) during the previous 12 months. According to these criteria, almost 40,000 of them (40%) are currently ineligible. The CNPF questions the continued existence of this special system dating back to the end of the 1960s, and wants to bring it into line with that of temporary workers (who have to have worked for 676 hours in the previous eight months), on the pretext that there is a chronic and deepening deficit in the system, which is actually financed by private sector staff and employers paying into the state contribution scheme (on the principle of "interprofessional solidarity"). As far as the unions are concerned (CGT, FO, CFDT, CFTC and the CGC), such a move would immediately exclude many workers in the performing arts, just at the moment when UNEDIC is showing an FFR 11.2 billion surplus.

In a strife-ridden atmosphere, marked by a number of different types of protest carried out by performance arts industry workers, ranging from demonstrations to occupations of several regional state buildings, the Government has had to appoint a mediator. The present system was thus extended to 30 April 1997. Before then, a draft agreement may be signed by Government, management and unions, specifying the conditions under which the system would function. This reform raises the wider question of the importance attributed to cultural expression in French society, and the way it is financed.

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