Social partners review intense phase of social dialogue

During a meeting on 10 November 2011, France’s social partners reviewed their activities in the first half of the year, including the signing of eight national intersectoral agreements, and announced their programme until March 2012, just before the presidential election. Faced with flat economic growth, the social partners decided to begin monthly monitoring to deal with the urgent socio-economic situation, but trade unions said more serious negotiations were needed.

Eight national agreements signed this year

Since the beginning of the year, social partners in France have negotiated eight national intersectoral agreements in keeping with the social agenda they adopted at the beginning of the year (FR1012021I).

The employers were represented by the Movement of French Enterprises (MEDEF), the General Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises and Real Employers (CGPME) and the Craftwork Employers’ Association (UPA). The trade union federations that signed the agreement were the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (CFTC), Force Ouvrière (FO) and the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (CFE-CGC).

Half of the agreements concern amendments to social protection organisations managed by the social partners. These are:

Four agreements to help young people

A further four agreements concern the employment of young people:

These results underline the willingness of social partners to contribute operational and structural responses to the issues for which they have responsibility, by means of social dialogue and collective bargaining.

Two negotiations still in pipeline

The forthcoming presidential election, scheduled for May 2012 - is likely to slow down the work of the social partners, which have planned only two ANI negotiations for early 2012:

  • one on the modernisation of ‘paritarism’ – a form of self-organisation of social relationships which, on the basis of equal negotiations, brings about agreements that are equally binding on both employers and employees. An agreement here is anticipated before the end of the first quarter;
  • the other is on the ‘bilan d’étape professionel’, a scheme that allows employees to take stock of their career. The scheme was included in the law on career guidance and lifelong vocational training of 24 November 2009 (in French) (FR0912019I), and was initiated by the national intersectoral agreement of 14 November 2008 on the management of jobs and skills.

Discussions will continue on other agenda topics, in particular:

  • on the modernisation of social dialogue and representative bodies, and in particular on the responsibilities assigned to staff representative bodies to create and share value;
  • on preparing for future negotiations on the agreement concerning unemployment insurance, which is managed on a collective basis, at the end of 2013;
  • on the quality of working life (work-life balance, working conditions, gender equality); and
  • on an assessment of the national agreement of 11 January 2008 on the modernisation of the labour market (FR0803039Q) and on other sectoral agreements and company agreements on the employment of older workers in order to anticipate the actions likely to be taken. No negotiation is envisaged on the employment of older workers because of the different attitudes among employers; while some wish to keep older people in employment, others are demanding a review of age-related measures.

Monthly social monitoring

While the committee established by the social partners to oversee the social agenda will continue to meet quarterly to review the progress of discussions, an additional monitoring meeting will be held monthly from now on to help decide which measures fall within its area of responsibility. However, the wording adopted by the social partners on 10 November does not define in detail how such monitoring will work.

Leader of the employers’ delegation from MEDEF, Benoît Roger-Vasselin, said the matter was ‘urgent’.

‘You need to be available when facing a difficult situation, for the sake of both the employees and the companies’, and ready ‘to take urgent measures at any time’ he stressed.

Stéphane Lardy, a negotiator for FO, believes that short-time working could be one of the first items to be examined by the monthly meeting. FO and the CFDT have emphasised ‘the urgency of action’, and demanded exceptional arrangements in support of part-time working modelled on the measures already taken in 2009, when the crisis was just beginning.

‘We will face up to our responsibilities, and we expect every player involved in this issue to do the same,’ said Benoît Roger-Vasselin, referring to the government which must be prepared to play its part in the efforts. Maurad Rabhi, Confederal Secretary of the CGT, considers such monitoring insufficient to deal with the current situation, which is already urgent.

Reactions of the social partners

In the view of the CFTC, this agenda is ‘not in the least bit ambitious’. The CGT criticises the absence of measures to start negotiating genuinely topical issues, such as wealth sharing, the excessive number of negotiated redundancies (see FR1104041I) and the employment of older people.

The CFDT and FO were slightly less critical of the value of the set agenda than the CFTC and CGT. According to Marcel Grignard of the CFDT, it represents ‘the consolidation of a process’. FO’s Stéphane Lardy added: ‘A social agenda is not going to solve the socio-economic problems of this country.’ In his view, a clear distinction must be made between two levels; what is feasible through collective bargaining, and what is the result of the crisis.

Frédéric TURLAN, HERA

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