France: Occupational personal accounts take effect

Occupational personal accounts, one of the flagship measures of France’s labour market reforms, took effect on 1 January 2017. The aim is to enable people to acquire entitlements to training without fear of losing them if they change employer. 

Introduction

Occupational personal accounts (CPA) were established in Law No. 2015-994 of 17 August 2015, and were to be implemented on 1 January 2017. Law 2016-1088 of 8 August 2016, which radically reformed labour law, defined the content of this account and its operating procedures, bearing in mind certain agreements the social partners had reached at inter-branch level (PDF) on 8 February 2016. The CPA is an individual account which each person is invited to open on a dedicated website. This enables people to record the various rights to training they have acquired. According to Article L. 5151-1 of the Labour Code, the objectives set out in the CPA are ‘to strengthen the autonomy and freedom of action of its holder and to secure their professional career by removing obstacles to mobility’. Since 1 January 2017, a CPA may be opened by any person aged 16 or over who is employed, is looking for a job or is taking part in a career orientation and integration project organised by the public employment services.

Three pillars of the occupational personal accounts

The CPA contains training entitlements on two existing accounts, plus a new account which was also launched on 1 January.

The Personal Training Account (CPF) allows people aged 16 or over to acquire training entitlements to be logged in an account which remains valid throughout their working lives. The hours that are earned are never lost, even in the event of a change of employer. This system was created by the social partners through a national interprofessional agreement of 14 December 2013 (PDF). The law of 5 March 2014 on vocational training, employment and social democracy defined the conditions for its implementation. Each year, this account is credited automatically with hours, based on statements made by the employer. For a full-time employee, the account is credited with 24 hours a year, up to 120 hours, and then 12 hours a year up to a maximum of 150 hours. This account will be extended to all workers, including individuals who are self-employed and public servants, in January 2018.

The Arduous Work Account (C3P), created by Law No. 2014-40 of 20 January 2014 guarantees the future and the justice of the pension system. This account allows employees exposed to harmful risk factors, above certain thresholds, to benefit from this account by accumulating points. It starts at four points a year for a person exposed to a single risk factor and reaches up to 16 points for employees born before July 1956 and exposed to several risks. This account may be credited with a maximum of 100 points over the entirety of a person’s professional career and may be converted, in whole or in part, into the right to training. The idea is that obtaining further training would allow the employee to move to a less hazardous profession.

The Citizen Engagement Account (Compte engagement citoyen), also created on 1 January 2017, acquires training entitlements (Labour Code, Article L. 5151-7) for those performing unpaid work or voluntary activities. One such activity is participation in the military reserves, revived after the terrorist attacks of 2016 to reinforce the capacity of the police. Another such activity would be for a skilled worker to take on a young person as their apprentice. This account will allow workers to acquire a maximum of 60 hours of training which will be financed by the legal entities responsible for the activity chosen.

The entitlements registered in the CPA are acquired by people throughout their working life and up until the time of their use. Each account holder is the sole decision-maker about how their training rights are used. An employer can ask workers to use them for training but cannot force them to do so, and a refusal cannot be considered as a negative point. Employees can monitor these rights on an online account.

Social partners’ reactions

Most trade unions support the creation of CPAs, particularly the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) which proposed the scheme as a condition of  their support for the reform of labour law launched by the government in 2016. However, they regret the lack of ambition of the CPA, which is far from the professional social security called for by the General Confederation of Labour (CGT). The CGT has said it regards the scheme as an ‘empty shell’. Indeed, the current content of the CPA is still far from the original idea of bringing together all the social rights linked to the person, irrespective of their status (unemployed, salaried, independent), in order to reduce inequalities. Employer organisations have supported the scheme despite some internal reluctance and their consistent opposition to the arduous work account. The Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Employers (CPME) has recently asked for the suspension of the C3P.

Commentary

The CPA can be seen as the first step towards the original goal of bringing together all the social rights linked to a single person, irrespective of their employment status. Everything will depend on the new government to be formed following the Presidential election of May 2017 and the June 2017 parliamentary elections. The new French president Emmanuel Macron has already warned that he will suspend the C3P which employers consider a bureaucratic nightmare. The future of the CPA depends also on the ability of the social partners to resume negotiations on strengthening the system.

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