Collective bargaining in 2000 assessed

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French collective bargaining thrived in 2000. While the amount of national intersectoral bargaining remained relatively stable, there was a considerable increase in sector-level bargaining, particularly at regional and département levels. Company-level bargaining activity again showed a marked increase in 2000, comparable with that witnessed the year before. These are the main findings of the Ministry of Employment and Solidarity's annual bargaining report, issued in June 2001.

On 25 June 2001, the Ministry of Employment and Solidarity presented its report on the previous year's collective bargaining (Bilan 2000 de la négociation collective) to the social partners represented in the National Collective Bargaining Commission (Commission supérieure de la négociation collective), as it does every year (FR0007178F).

According to the report, the reduction and reorganisation of working time, the fight against unemployment and pay negotiations were the main themes driving collective bargaining throughout 2000.

Intersectoral bargaining

Ostensibly, the amount of national intersectoral bargaining remained stable in 2000 in terms of agreements signed: 27 texts were adopted in 2000, compared with 34 in 1999 and 33 in 1998. However, this apparent quantitative stability masks the high degree of mobilisation among the social partners at this level throughout 2000, especially as part of the 'industrial relations overhaul' talks launched by the MEDEF employers' confederation (FR0102134F), which had been agreed upon the previous year (FR0002143F).

Moreover, some of the agreements adopted at this level in 2000 will structure future negotiations - notably the intersectoral accords on unemployment insurance (FR0101114F) and on workplace health (FR0101116N).

Sectoral bargaining

Sector-level bargaining experienced a notable revival in 2000. The Ministry's figures show that 870 texts were concluded at this level, as opposed to 761 in 1999. Two topics predominated in sectoral negotiations: the reduction of working time, which was an element in 113 agreements; and the issue of pay, which was covered by 365 agreements compared with 258 in 1999. There were also 79 agreements on increasing bonus payments and 48 on bonus systems.

In terms of working time reductions, the 2000 statistics confirm that the sector level has emerged as a 'resource centre for companies, both interpreting the law and providing services', to quote the recent Rouilleault report on the implementation of the 1998 and 2000 legislation introducing the 35-hour week (FR0107170F). The favourable economic climate explains the increasing importance of pay and remuneration in the 'league table' of negotiating themes. However, vocational training and social welfare were the subject of fewer agreements and amendments at sector level than in previous years. There were 89 texts concluded on vocational training at sector level in 2000, as opposed to 132 in 1999, and 49 on welfare, compared with 64 in 1999. The numbers of agreements on other topics remained stable in 2000, though the Ministry identified a noticeable increase in negotiations on equality between women and men.

It should be noted that the boom in sector-level bargaining in 2000 was basically at subnational level, a level which had previously seen a decline in bargaining activity since 1995. The number of sectoral agreements at national level remained almost unchanged: 582 in 2000, compared with 586 in 1999. However, there was an increase in activity both at regional level (189 texts in 2000, up from 118 in 1999) and at département level (99 texts in 2000, compared with 57 in 1999). The re-emergence of the issue of pay and remuneration partially explains this rise in the number of subnational agreements: a good proportion of the pay-related amendments to agreements cover particular départements or regions.

With regard to the proportion of sectoral agreements signed by the various trade unions, the Ministry found overall stability, though with CGT returning to its level of previous years after a steep rise in 1999, and CGT-FO registering a discernible increase in the number of agreements signed, particularly at département and regional levels.

Company-level bargaining

As in 1999, company-level bargaining was particularly active in 2000, with around 30,000 texts signed (provisional figures from the Ministry for Employment and Solidarity).These texts were signed in over 20,000 firms and covered approximately 4 million employees. It should be borne in mind that in 2000, as in 1999, this bargaining activity and the conclusion of agreements penetrated into the dense layer of small and medium-sized enterprises: almost half of the agreements concluded in 2000 were in companies employing fewer than 50 staff, though they covered only 5% of the total number of employees working for this size of firm.

The method of collecting the statistics on company-level bargaining was changed for the 2000 report. It is therefore difficult to make comparisons between the 2000 figures and those for previous years, particularly when it comes to negotiating themes. This difficulty apart, it is clearly the case that in 2000, as in the preceding years, negotiations on the reduction of working time were very numerous, either as the sole topic or in combination with others, such as the reorganisation of working time, employment levels, etc. This is illustrated in the table below.

Company-level texts signed in 2000 by theme, or combination of themes in a single agreement (provisional data)

Theme/combination of themes No. of texts % of total
RTT* alone RTT-ATT** RTT-ATT-employment RTT-ATT-other ATT alone Other Pay (not including RTT) Total of combinations above Other combinations 1,932 9,807 656 3,467 1,392 1,805 4,540 23,599 6,835 6.3 32.2 2.2 11.4 4.6 5.9 14.9 77.5 22.5
Total 30,434 100
Of which RTT-ATT (with or without other themes) 16,462 54.1

* RTT = reduction of working time; ** ATT = reorganisation of working time.

Source: MES-Dares.

As the table indicates, the negotiation of working time reductions at company level has been accompanied by simultaneous bargaining on a series of other topics. Although more than 54% of the texts agreed in 2000 dealt with working time reduction (réduction du temps de travail, RTT) and working time reorganisation (aménagement du temps de travail, ATT), often combining them with other topics (saving or creating jobs, work organisation etc), only 6% of the texts concluded in 2000 focused exclusively on the reduction of working time.

It should be noted that pay emerged as a more autonomous negotiating theme in 2000, since 15% of the texts signed at company level did not refer to any other subject. These probably represented traditional annual pay bargaining.

Nearly two-thirds of the company-level texts were signed by trade union delegates (ie rather than employees 'mandated' by unions to sign agreements - FR9807123F), with CFDT representatives signing a majority of all texts (55%). The increase in the proportion of texts signed by CGT in 2000 compared with previous years was noteworthy. Mandating employees to sign agreements was a less popular option than in 1999, but CFDT and CFTC were still the unions mandating the highest number of employees. Lastly, referenda are gradually becoming established in bargaining procedures, with one in five of 2000's agreements being subject to a workforce vote. This occurred especially when the agreement was negotiated by mandated employees: 40% of such agreements were subject to a vote, compared with 7% of those negotiated and signed by a union delegate.

Commentary

The Ministry's annual assessment of collective bargaining enables the broad trends in the content and form of negotiations to be identified. The degree of detail possible in such a snapshot is necessarily limited. However, this year the report has again captured the dynamic role played by the legislation on the reduction of working time in driving collective bargaining throughout 2000. (Maurice Braud, IRES)

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