Breakdown of sectoral negotiations on minimum pay rates

Download article in original language : FR9803196NFR.DOC

According to France's Minister of Labour, the conflict over the Government's plans to introduce a 35-hour working week led to a deadlock in 1997's sector-level negotiations on minimum pay rates.

One of the key roles of sectoral collective agreement s in France is to set pay levels for each stratum of worker qualification in a particular sector. However, a discrepancy has always existed between the lowest wage level set by collective agreements and the statutory minimum wage (Salaire minimum interprofessionnel de croissance- SMIC), as the former is often lower than the latter. However, workers concerned by this discrepancy always receive the SMIC rate.

In 1990, in an attempt to give new impetus to the collective bargaining process and to bring it into line with increases in actual wages, Michel Rocard's Socialist Government set the goal of "raising collectively agreed minimum pay rates". This was based on a study of 164 sectors in both the "general" category (excluding metalworking) and in the metalworking category, employing more than 10,000 workers each. The latest report by the Ministry of Labour shows that in 1997 only 38% of the "general" sectors had "complied" with the stated goals - ie all pay levels were higher than the SMIC. This was down from 41% in 1990. In metalworking, the proportion of "complying" sectors was only 11%, down from 29% seven years ago.

Compared to annual results since 1990, 1997 seems to have experienced a sharp deterioration in terms of minimum pay levels in sectoral agreements. In the opinion of the Minister of Labour, this cannot be attributed to the 4% increase in the SMIC on 1 July 1997 (FR9706153N), since this same phenomenon had not occurred in 1995, when the national minimum wage was raised by the same percentage. The Minister believes that the deterioration is due more to "the wait-and-see attitude which has arisen primarily because of the bill on the reduction of the working week". This proposed legislation will set a statutory working week of 35 hours from 2000 (FR9712186N).

Following the October 1997 tripartite conference on employment and working time, at which the 35-hour week legislation was announced (FR9710174N), the National Council of French Employers (Conseil national du patronat français, CNPF) promised a freeze in the sectoral bargaining process. However, the Minister for Employment does not think that social dialogue has been broken off and considers that the breakdown in negotiations is essentially due to the "wait-and-see attitude adopted by the social partners".

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