Rights and resources for unions in the public sector

France’s public sector trade unions receive support from public funds of more than €1 billion each year. The July 2010 law reforming social dialogue in the public sector linked the rights and resources available to unions with the results of workplace elections. A decree on union rights and funding, within the framework of the 2010 law, was issued in February 2012. It does not reduce the funding available to the unions, but makes their use of public resources more transparent.

Background

The issue of trade unions’ resources has been the subject of recent changes in France. A report commissioned by the Public Service Ministry and published in June 2010, Balance of resources allocated to unions in the public sector (in French), estimated that state and local municipalities pay around €250 per civil servant to trade unions. This amounts to more than €1 billion, among other grants, that indirectly funds union employees and union premises.

The adoption of Law 2010-751 (in French) on the renewal of social dialogue within the public administration has granted workplace elections the authority to determine the representativeness and legitimacy of trade unions (FR1009031I).

The financial package the state dedicates to public sector trade unions will depend on the outcome of these elections. The allocation of the rights and resources for unions within the public administration will be determined on the basis of each union’s representativeness, measured by the number of votes and seats won in the elections of representative bodies known as Technical Committees. Following the elections of October 2011 (FR1110021I), on 16 February 2012 the Minister for Labour Xavier Bertrand adopted Decree no. 2012-224 (in French) which sets out the rights and the resources of unions within the public administration.

New definition of union resources

The new decree defines representative unions as those that have at least one seat on an establishment’s Technical Committee. The two main resources that a representative union is entitled to are dedicated space in which to carry out its work and paid credit time for its officials.

  • Material resources – The unions must be given an equipped office or, if this is not possible, a grant to cover the cost of renting premises and equipment. Monthly information meetings can be organised during working hours and every staff member has the right to participate for a maximum of one hour per month.
  • Credit time – This is worked out in two stages.
  1. First, following the reelection of the Technical Committee, paid facility time (an agreed number of hours of credit for carrying out union work) is granted to union representatives within each ministry. The total credit time granted is expressed in full-time equivalent (FTE) workers. The number of employees determines how much FTE credit time is granted; one FTE for every 230 to 140,000 workers, and one additional FTE for every additional 650 workers.
  2. The overall quota is then divided among the unions. One half is divided on the basis of the number of seats that representative unions have on the Technical Committees. The other half is divided between the remaining union representatives who took part in the election according to their proportion of the vote. Unions can elect their representatives from among those who will be entitled to union facility time.

The new decree does not reduce the resources already available to unions and, in fact, makes the unions’ use of credit time considerably more flexible. The wages and other costs of more than 4,500 FTE union workplace representatives are subsidised by the state at an annual estimated cost of more than €160 million. However, in order to avoid problems that may arise if some public bodies offer more generous resources to unions, the new measures do not attempt to reduce this bill.

The decree does, however, put in place a transparent system common to all public administrations and unions and confirms the accounting requirements established by the Labour Code, which states that each ministry must carry out a social audit that includes information and statistics on all of the resources granted to trade unions in the past 12 months.

Social partner reactions

The decree has had a mixed reception. The Minister for Public Administration, François Sauvadet, issued a statement (in French) welcoming ‘the new measure which will guarantee the resources available and union representativeness (…) strengthening the transparency desired by all parties’.

Certain unions will see their resources reduced because their unions’ seats on the Technical Committees are determined by the number of votes. This is true of the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (CFTC), which received 3.8% of the votes across the public administration of the state, and which views the decree as ‘draconian’. The General Confederation of Labour (CGT) received 15% of the vote. In its response to the decree, in a statement entitled A note on union rights (in French, 274Kb PDF), the CGT commented that it ‘slightly improves the right of unions to organise’ but falls ‘far short of their needs’.

Commentary

Trade unions are conscious of the need for greater transparency and improved management of their resources in the private sector, especially in order to preserve their image. A parliamentary report (in French, 2.36Mb PDF), dating from October 2011, pointed particularly to numerous errors in the financing of trade union activity, although the report was officially ‘destroyed’ because it was not adopted by the committee in charge of the case prior. It was, however, published online by the press earlier this year.

Hélène Tissandier, Université Paris-Dauphine, IRShare

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