New law on unions for workers in micro companies

The French government passed a law in 2008 changing the way representativeness of trade unions was measured. However, workers employed by very small companies were unable to participate in elections for staff representatives, which determine the status of the unions. In 2010, the government began the process of reforming representativeness within these small companies with the law of 15 October 2010, which will enable these workers to participate in elections for union representation.

A necessary complementary reform to the law of 2008

As a result of the law of 20 August 2008 (FR0808039I, FR1007031I), representativeness of a trade union essentially depends on the number of votes it gets in workplace elections for staff representatives (called ‘professional elections’), held in companies every four years. Representativeness was previously determined by a trade union’s affiliation to a confederation recognised by law at national level.

The 2008 reform meant that representativeness was now measured by the electoral weight of the different trade unions. The results of company elections are collected by the Labour Ministry, which determines the representativeness of trade unions in a given sector. The procedure is, for the moment, limited to sectoral representativeness, but after 22 August 2013 it will be extended to the intersectoral, national level.

However, professional elections are obligatory only in companies employing at least 11 workers, which means that four million workers employed in smaller companies are not able to exercise this right. Therefore, it was necessary for the government to change the law, in order to measure representativeness of trade unions for this group of workers.

Regional elections for trade unions

The second reform, initiated in 2008, which resulted in the law of 15 October 2010, sought to tackle the issue of measuring the representativeness of trade unions in very small companies through the organisation of regional elections every four years.

Electoral lists will be drawn up by the Minister for Labour on the basis of information furnished by social security offices, and workers will simply vote for their preferred trade union.

As a candidate organisation, a trade union will have to be either affiliated to a representative organisation at the national intersectoral level, or meet a specific set of criteria:

  • to respect republican values and independence from the employer and from political or religious organisations;
  • to be legally established for at least two years prior to the elections;
  • to have an established presence in the sector, or the territory, concerned.

No representation for workers in very small businesses

The original draft proposals contained a provision for the creation of local joint committees, whose role would have been to verify the application of collective agreements and help manage social dialogue.

For the trade unions, the creation of these committees offered workers in very small companies a form of collective representation, as there are no staff or trade union representatives in these companies.

But two of the three employer organisations – the Movement of French Enterprises (MEDEF) and the General Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (CGPME) opposed this section of the bill and managed to secure enough parliamentary support to ensure this clause did not receive parliament’s consent. It is therefore not contained in the final text of the law.

According to CGPME, very small companies ‘escaped the introduction of bureaucracy, which would entitle trade unions to a right that they do not currently have’.

The Craftwork Employers’ Association (UPA), however, signed a declaration (in French, 50Kb PDF) in favour of the creation of local joint committees with all representative trade union organisations, excluding the General Confederation of Labour – Force Ouvrière (CGT-FO).

According to a press release (in French) by the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), the decision ‘represents a retrograde vision of social dialogue’ and ‘shows strong contempt for trade unionism’.

Sandrine Jean, Human and Employment Research Agency (HERA)

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