Working time agreement signed in metalworking sector

In February 2006, employers and three trade union federations in the metalworking industry signed an agreement providing for the reorganisation of working time in the sector. The agreement includes provisions for an increase of overtime and of daily contracts.

After several months of negotiations, an agreement on working time reorganisation was signed on 13 February 2006 between the employer organisation, the Union of Metallurgy and Mining Industries (Union des industries métallurgiques et minières, UIMM), and three trade union federations: the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l’encadrement – Confédération générale des cadres, CFE-CGC), the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC), and the General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail – Force ouvrière, CGT-FO).

Provisions of agreement

The main provision of the agreement allows for an increase of yearly overtime work from 180 to 220 hours in the metalworking industry.

  • For companies employing more than 20 workers, the proportion of overtime allowed will be fixed at 25% of working time for the first eight hours of overtime and at 50% of working time for the remainder of overtime.
  • Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will continue to maintain an overtime proportion of 10% of working time.

The second important provision of the agreement concerns the increase in daily contracts. These will be extended to other categories of workers besides management. For example, fitters, workers in a number of mobile job categories – such as maintenance technicians – and supervisors will now be eligible to work on daily contracts. However, this new daily contract has to be accepted individually and in writing by each employee concerned.

Finally, the agreement defines new conditions regarding compensatory leave in accordance with the 35-hour week. This compensation can be taken in the form of hours in lieu, which can be set aside for later use through a ‘time savings account’ (compte épargne temps, CET), or in the form of financial remuneration.

Position of unions

This is not the first time that an employer organisation has managed to obtain the consent of the three abovementioned trade union federations to an agreement amending the legal constraints of the 35-hour working week. In 1998 (FR9808129F), 2000 (FR0108161F) and 2003 (FR0309103F), similar agreements were signed by these same organisations.

Since the 2004 law on collective negotiations (FR0404105F, FR0507104F), an agreement in a given branch must be signed by the majority of trade unions involved, in order for it to be valid. The metalworking industry agreement fulfils this criterion and places the two remaining unions represented in this sector – the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT) and the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT) – in a minority position, despite the fact that they represent a majority of workers in the sector in terms of electoral results.

The unions that signed the agreement have justified their position by claiming that it was necessary to ‘put an end to the practice certain companies have of passing derogating laws’, according to Frédéric Homez, General Secretary of the metalworking industry branch of CGT-FO. In foreign-based companies such as Bosch (FR0408101N) and Hewlett Packard (FR0510102N), employees have been threatened with relocation; therefore, the trade unions have been willing to sign agreements on working time reorganisation that do not allow for financial compensation. The signatory unions of this particular branch agreement are pleased that they have managed to block this phenomenon through the use of binding clauses, especially where SMEs with few employees are concerned. They also emphasise that they have obtained an overtime percentage rate higher than that which was originally covered by the law.

The two non-signatory unions question this analysis, however. According to CGT, this agreement contains no compensatory measures that could benefit the workforce as far as the law or the previous branch agreement are concerned. Both CGT and CFDT, which had firmly supported the law on the 35-hour week, accuse the signatory parties of opening the floodgates for longer working time and increased working time flexibility. They fear that employees will not be able to resist pressure from companies on an individual basis.

The two non-signatory unions have limited means with which to oppose the agreement. They can issue a statement of dissatisfaction regarding a possible extension of the agreement – an extension that would be necessary if this agreement were to apply to the 1.8 million employees in the metalworking sector. However, the labour ministry is not obliged to take this statement into account. Although CGT called for a day of strike action, this was eclipsed by a wave of action against the projected ‘first job contract’ (Contrat première embauche, CPE) employment law (FR0605059I).

Large companies employing many workers continue to demand a comprehensive revision of the law on the 35-hour week. For example, Bosch, which in 2004 was the first company to adopt the 36-hour week at its Vénisseux site near Lyon in the Rhône-Alpes region now wishes to extend the increased working hours to all of its production sites in France.

Udo Rehfeldt, Institut de Recherches Économiques et Sociales (IRES)

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