France: Latest working life developments Q3 2018

Reforms to labour market, unemployment insurance, and occupational health and pensions are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in France in the third quarter of 2018.

Labour market reforms to increase professional freedom

In August, the government completed the second stage of its social model renovation and Law 2018-771 on ‘freedom to choose one’s professional future’ was passed on 5 September. This law covers a vast field, from vocational training and apprenticeships to gender equality and the posting of workers. It also paves the way for the reform of the unemployment insurance system.

The section on equal pay for men and women and the fight against sexual and gender-based violence was significantly strengthened during parliamentary debates. For example, companies with at least 50 employees will be required to publish indicators on pay gaps between women and men. The law also reforms in depth the training and learning system, revises how training is financed (costing by euros rather than hours), modifies the governance of the vocational training system and simplifies the conditions for the conclusion, execution and termination of apprenticeship contracts.

The French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) hailed the reform as ‘progress’, while fearing a ‘risk of a decline in training rights’. [1] The General Confederation of Labour – Workers’ Force (FO) denounced the ‘ logic of each for himself’, estimating that the law ‘detracted’ from unemployment insurance and ‘contained few guarantees’ for apprentices. [2] The FO also felt that transforming the personal training account into euros would ‘inevitably lead to individualisation and therefore a reduction in employees' rights’.

Employer organisations reacted positively even though some, like the General Confederation of Small and Medium Companies (CPME), were worried about their ability to assume responsibility for the taxation of the occupational sectors that make the most use of fixed-term contracts. [3]

Unemployment insurance reforms draw mixed reactions

At the end of August, the government organised bilateral meetings with the social partners. Following these exchanges, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe sent partners a ‘work programme to renovate our social model’. This work programme contained seven projects, three of which – unemployment insurance, occupational health and care work stoppages – will lead to structural transformations in the coming months, with a specific ‘method’ for interprofessional collective bargaining , according to Prime Minister Philippe. He intends to respect the autonomy of the social partners.

Regarding unemployment insurance reform, the government opened a ‘shared diagnostic phase’ with the social partners in September, before launching a formal consultation. A document was produced that detailed the objectives of the reform (i.e. reduce levels of precarious work and increase incentives to return to employment) and the social partners began negotiations on the final unemployment insurance agreement. The new rules will need to be in place by the end of the first half of 2019.

The major trade unions and employer organisations in France (who jointly manage the system of unemployment insurance) discussed a possible joint response to the proposed reforms. The president of the Movement of the Enterprises of France (MEDEF) called for the unemployment insurance scheme’s rules of compensation to be changed in order to encourage people to return to employment. On the trade union side, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and the FO agreed to go on strike on 9 October to protest against ‘the ideological policy of the government’.[4]

Government unveils occupational health and pensions reforms

The government also announced that a consultation on occupational health would be commencing in October. Social partners were sent a guidance document for the opening of possible inter-professional collective bargaining, which could be extended until the end of the first quarter of 2019. During this period, the partners will be able to refer to the report Health at work: towards a simplified system for enhanced prevention and review the national inter-professional agreement of 19 June 2013 on the quality of life at work. A bill will then be tabled in parliament before the end of the first half of 2019.

High Commissioner for Pension Reform Jean-Paul Delevoye will bring together the social partners in October to conclude the first phase of consultation and present ‘the main principles underlying the future pension system’. A second phase on ‘the main parameters of this new system, as well as the transition modalities’ will then be opened, with a bill due to be introduced in 2019.

Lastly, the government announced plans to increase the maternity leave of self-employed women to a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 16 weeks in 2019 (matching what is already in place for employees), while a report by the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs (IGAS) recommended that paternity leave be extended to two or three weeks. [5]

Commentary

Despite a decline in President Macron’s popularity, the government appears determined to pursue its reforms programme. The pace of reforms has not slowed down during the third quarter of 2018 and the government has managed to adopt them without any notable opposition from the trade unions.

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