France: Latest working life developments – Q1 2018

The next phase of labour market reform, measures to improve working conditions, and social conflict in the railway sector 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 2018.

Second phase of labour market reform

The government continued its labour market reform with a draft law covering unemployment insurance, vocational training and apprenticeships. This text, which should be adopted in summer 2018, is partly based on two interprofessional agreements negotiated by the social partners: one on unemployment insurance and the other on vocational training . For unemployment insurance, there are two main measures: the first aims to allow employees who have been in work for five years and want to resign to receive an unemployment allowance; the second provides self-employed workers with an allowance of €800 per month, subject to conditions.

In addition, on the basis of a guidance document, the Prime Minister launched a consultation with social partners on an employment policy for people with disabilities. Social partners are invited to open negotiations at the end of the consultation period. Two reports, one from the Court of Auditors, the other from the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs and the General Inspectorate of Finance, criticised the operation and efficiency of the two current funds for the professional integration of disabled workers (Agefiph and FIPHFP).

Measures to improve working conditions

In February, a new law was created to allow those who care for people with disabilities or a loss of autonomy to benefit from leave not taken by other employees of their company. This new arrangement is similar to the one already in place for parents of seriously ill children. In addition, the government has asked a deputy to conduct a parliamentary mission on maternity leave and commissioned a report on paternity leave that will study, among other things, the possibility of increasing the length of leave.

The Minister of Labour has launched an action plan with 10 measures aimed at combating wage inequalities and eliminating the 9% gap that exists between men and women in equal positions by 2021. One of the proposed measures is the wider use of a free software tool which is integrated into the payroll software to objectively measure wage differences. The Defender of Rights has also published a recommendation to the public authorities to combat sexual harassment.

Social conflict in the railway sector

To reform the public railway company SNCF, the government has announced – on the basis of a report commissioned by the former President of Air France – its willingness to adopt ordinances, making it possible to pass reforms more quickly. The Prime Minister has upset the trade unions by announcing that new employees will no longer benefit from the favourable employment conditions included in the 'status of railway workers' and that the working conditions included in the Labour Code will apply instead. The main trade union organisations (Sud-Rail, Unsa, CFDT and CGT) have strongly denounced this reform and decided upon an unprecedented action: a strike plan of two days in every five, from April to June. This is combined with an Air France airline strike over wage claims where the unions are demanding a salary increase of 6%, or €200 per month, which management considers unreasonable.

Commentary

Since its inception, the government has constantly announced reforms and adopted them without any notable opposition from the trade unions, even if they were essentially opposed to the measures and/or the consultation process. With the reform of the railway company SNCF, the government is facing its first social dispute.

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