Collective bargaining in 2011

In 2011, as in previous years, the French Ministry of Labour has published a review of collective bargaining which gives a general account of the key issues and areas of concern. The review provides data on the number of agreements, but also analyses their content, and examines the trends in topics and objectives of the negotiations. The review appears to show that collective bargaining remains strong in France, but social partners are not convinced by the bare statistics.

A positive review

A review, Assessments and Reports: Collective bargaining to 2011 (in French, 2.7Mb PDF), was unveiled by the social partners on 26 June 2012 at the National Commission of Collective Negotiations. It shows that the number of agreements signed since 2004 has, at all levels of negotiations, either increased or remained stable.

In more detail, the findings show 46 national, regional or local inter-professional agreements were made in 2011, compared to 25 in 2010. Eleven agreements and endorsements were achieved, but no major changes were introduced. Of the eight national inter-professional agreements concluded in 2011, four included measures for young people at work and the other four covered issues such as the security of professional contracts, the Agency for the Employment of Managerial and Professional Staff (APEC), AGIRC-ARRCO complementary pensions and unemployment insurance.

A total of 1,195 sectoral agreements were concluded, slightly higher than the figure for 2010. This can be explained by the presence of a number of important agreements on themes such as professional training, complementary pensions and private health and life insurance, conditions for the negotiation and conclusion of agreements and of professional equality.

There were 34,000 company agreements, with the number remaining roughly stable. However, there was a noticeable increase in agreements negotiated by union representatives, up by 10%. There was no increase in agreements concluded by elected employee representatives.

Regional social dialogue remains very dynamic, particularly at sectoral level. Most agreements concern pay, but it is also possible to find agreements on the management of employment or on living and working conditions involving issues like the provision of transport and luncheon vouchers. These negotiations are often associated with services provided by the state.

Scope of negotiations

The previous report in 2010 suggested that the employment of older workers had occupied an important place in negotiations, beyond the usual major themes of working time, salaries and professional classifications. There is now a legal obligation to consider the needs of older workers in collective agreements.

In 2011, at the sectoral level, there was an increase in the number of wage agreements following the revaluation of the national Minimum Wage (Guaranteed) (SMIC), and of agreements concerning vocational training.

In addition, the law of 20 August 2008 (in French) on social dialogue and working time extended the possibility of elected workplace representation in negotiations – subject to the creation of a joint validation committee at sectoral level. This provision was favoured by around 40 sectors in their agreements.

Finally, there were a number of important agreements about Certified Joint Collecting Body organisations (OPCA) responsible for funding vocational training. These were concluded in accordance with the law of 24 November 2009 (in French) on vocational training, and the decrees issued in 2010 and 2011. The law imposed new requirements to designate an OPCA for each sector, and this has become an area of tension between the social partners. One example of this was in the private hospital sector when the OPCA chosen by the unions was preferred to that of the employers’ organisations.

At company level, the agreements concluded focused essentially on wages and bonuses, and often included the issue of profit-sharing following the passing of a new law on 29 July 2011. The new regulation states that in commercial companies employing 50 or more people, any increase in dividends paid to shareholders must now be accompanied, in turn, by the payment of a profit-sharing bonus for all employees.

The method of awarding the bonus, including the amount and terms of payment, are determined by agreement or, failing that, by a unilateral decision of the employer.

There was also a 49% increase in the number of agreements containing clauses on equality of employment. Again, according to the Act of 9 November 2010 on pension reform (in French), companies that have no agreement on wage equality, or those without a plan to reduce the pay gap between men and women, are now subject to a fine. The pension reforms introduced a penalty for employers with 50 or more employees who failed to negotiate an agreement before 1 January 2012.

Mixed reaction from unions

Although the findings appear to be positive, some social partners have been critical of the progress of collective bargaining and this has been expressed in the report. The French Democratic Federation of Labour (CFDT) emphasised the fact that the economic crisis has weighed heavily on the negotiations. On a number of issues, the union highlighted the reluctance of employers to negotiate an agreement, preferring instead to develop an action plan – for example on stress at work in the service sector.

According to the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), the quantitative aspect of the report hid the more contrasting qualitative aspect. On the issue of equality for example, the union said half of the agreements were unsatisfactory.

The CFDT also described the agreements as ‘minimalist’.

More generally it said the issues that most people were concerned about centred on levels of employment and the distribution of wealth, and these were again avoided. This was the case for issues concerning the compensation of workers, and the financial situation of companies in terms of capital and investment for future employment.

The unions said reducing budget deficits and debt had been presented by the government and by employers’ organisations as a priority to justify even more austerity.

The General Confederation of Labour–Force Ouvrière (CGT-FO) said that ‘often the results are not worth the effort of negotiation’.

Commentary

If the account presented by the government in the review of collective agreements is to be a useful analytical tool, it would surely benefit from an approach that combines the quantitative and qualitative approaches. This does not yet exist.

Hélène Tissandier, IR Share

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