France: Latest working life developments – Q1 2017

Preparations for the presidential election and a revival of national social dialogue with the signing of a new collective agreement on the unemployment insurance scheme are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in France in the first quarter of 2017.

Fight against illegal work and social corporate responsibility

The fight against illegal work and the abuse of posting of workers led the government to launch a compulsory ID card system for the construction sector.

Following the Rana Plaza tragedy in 2013 when an eight-story commercial building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, killing 1,129 garment workers, the French government adopted a law on the duty of vigilance of multinationals. This obliges French multinational companies to implement a plan to protect their workers abroad.

The plan shall include reasonable vigilance measures to identify risks and prevent serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the health and safety of persons and the environment resulting from the activities of society and those of the companies it controls.

However, on 23 March, the Constitutional Council decided that the law’s provisions for fining companies was unconstitutional (see also the council’s press release).

Revival of interprofessional social dialogue

Social dialogue at the interprofessional level was revived with the signing (by the employer organisations and four of the five representative trade unions) of the new collective agreement on the unemployment insurance system (PDF).

However, negotiations on this failed in June 2016. To reduce the deficit of the scheme, the social partners compromised on several issues, such as increasing the employers’ contributions and reducing the length of time during which people over 50 receive unemployment benefits. Currently, people aged 50 and over who register as unemployed enjoy a longer benefit period than other age categories (24 months). The social partners have decided to apply this maximum period of 24 months to those aged between 50 and 52 years. Between 53 and 54 years, the benefit period will be reduced to 30 months but will remain at 36 months for those aged 55 and above.

Social partners’ discussions continue on the future of the occupational personal account (CPA), which came into force on 1 January. The social partners hope to present a summary of their work on 25 April, which is expected to form the basis of national interprofessional collective bargaining. The aim is to examine how the CPA can secure career paths and allow flexible working arrangements throughout a person’s working life.

Two other consultations were also launched – on corporate social responsibility and on teleworking. The aim of the teleworking consultation is to produce a guide of best practices to facilitate company negotiations. In May, the social partners will determine whether to open negotiations on this issue. This heightened activity of interprofessional social dialogue can be interpreted as a response to the plans of certain candidates in the presidential election, which aim at making the State take direct responsibility for the management of unemployment insurance.

Religion and telework at the workplace

The issue of religion in the workplace has arisen after the Ministry of Labour released a handbook of religious practices for employers (PDF). A ruling by the Court of Cassation found that the dismissal of a controller for the Parisian urban transport company (RATP) was discriminatory; the employee had refused to take the oath using the customary ‘I swear’, because his Christian religion forbade it. A ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union on the Court of Cassation’s preliminary judgement made several points, which should be observed when employers are seeking to restrict any visible signs of religion made by their employees.

Teleworking is also a topic of collective bargaining in companies, with an agreement concluded at the Parisian airports (PDF) allowing employees to work from home one day per week. They are also able to benefit from two additional days of telework per month. The social partners are using a guide published by Anact, the French agency which works to promote better working conditions, to help organise this type of work.

Work–life balance and working conditions

Agreements have also been reached at Alstom Transport on work–life balance (PDF) and at La Poste on improving working conditions (and in anticipation of the impending change in postal workers’ duties). The text of the latter agreement anticipates that, by 2020, postal workers will spend more than half of their working time on activities other than traditional mail delivery.

Stores such as Le Printemps and La Fnac concluded agreements about Sunday working. However, negotiations failed at Carrefour, with three unions opposing the idea of allowing stores to open on Sunday mornings. A study by Dares points out that, in 2015, Sunday work involved 21% of the workforce (PDF).

The failure of negotiations on price increases between Uber and its ‘independent drivers’ is another important development for working conditions in new forms of employment. The drivers are represented by five trade union organisations with the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) having created two unions to cover drivers not affiliated with taxi companies and meal deliverers to homes, respectively.

Commentary

The forthcoming presidential elections are preventing any new important legislative initiatives. However, many changes in the law are expected when the new president is elected on 6 May for the next five years, with the new Parliament elected in June. All the four main candidates – François Fillon (conservative), Marine Le Pen (extreme-right), Emmanuel Macron (centre/liberal) or Jean-Luc Mélanchon (left) – have significant reform programmes that will lead to important changes in terms of employment legislation and social dialogue.

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