France: Collective bargaining and continuous vocational training

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 11 February 2009

Yves Lochard, Benoit Robin

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

The ‘individual right to training’ approved by the social partners in December 2003 and included in the law in 2004 has now been extended to civil servants. Increasingly widely implemented, the training opportunities it offers have enabled a growing number of employees to improve their skills. The regions, social partners and the State are responsible for implementing the individual right to training. It is already possible to partially assess the impact made by introduction of the right.

Main features of the national Continuous Vocational Training system

The idea of an ‘individual right to training’ enabling employees to receive training throughout their careers emerged in the French debate at the start of the 1990s. The aim was to make a bridge between training required by the employer as part of the training plan, and training taken on the employee’s own initiative. The trade unions now accept the individualisation of rights as long as career development is collectively guaranteed for employees.

The new Individual Right to Training (DIF - droit individuel à la formation ) created by the inter-trade agreement of September 2003 (FR0311103F) and confirmed in the May 2004 law aims to be one of the career tools for employees working for companies. Employees with over a year of service in a company benefit from a credit of 20 hours training per year (or pro rata equivalent for part-time employees), which can be built up over six years. This credit enables employees to receive training during or outside working hours, in accordance with the provisions of the relevant sector-wide or company agreement. For hours of training received during working hours, the employee receives his or her normal salary, whereas hours of training received outside of working hours are paid at a rate of 50% of the net salary. The employee must take the initiative to implement his or her right to training although this must be covered by a formal agreement with the employer. The minimum number of training hours accrued has already been altered by a number of sector-wide agreements (changed to 21 hours in the cleaning sector and 24 hours at SNCF for schemes leading to a higher level of skills and qualifications).

The civil service modernisation law adopted on 2nd February 2007 now gives civil servants (central government, local government and hospital staff) the option of accessing an individual right to training.

This right is also included in the 7th February 2007 law on local government: local government officers benefit from an individual right to training modelled on the right to training enjoyed by private-sector employees.

One of the most widely discussed points is the issue of the transferability of the individual right to training in the event of an employment contract being terminated, which hinges upon the creation of an individual right and not a right connected to a single employer. The mechanism contained in the agreement does not provide transferability in this scenario. If the individual right to training is not transferable, the skills and qualifications gained by the employee must be under validation of work-derived experience schemes. The agreement creates a new tool, the training passport, which is created on the initiative of the employee who is responsible for it. The passport lists the professional knowledge, skills and abilities acquired via both initial and continuous training and professional experience. However, a number of sector-wide (the cleaning sector) and group (Thalès) agreements make provision for the transferability of rights from one company to another in the event of the employee moving.

Recently, the 11th January 2008 agreement on the modernisation of the labour market (FR0802049I) implemented a portability mechanism under which employees “will be able to use the total number of hours acquired under the individual right to training multiplied by the flat rate hourly amount stipulated in Article D.981-5 of the Labour Code (i.e. €9.15). The beneficiary is responsible for implementing this provision:

  • First and foremost when being processed by the unemployment benefits system, in agreement with their personal adviser, during the first half of their unemployment benefit period, in order to increase funding for training schemes, skills assessment or the validation of work-derived experience or support measures stipulated by their advisor.
  • And, in agreement with their new employer, during the two years following recruitment, in order to increase funding for training schemes, skills assessment or the validation of work-derived experience within the framework of continuous training.”

There are three main actors (see point 2.3a):

  • Regional Councils
  • Social partners

Three employers’ organizations: the General Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Confédération générale des petites et moyennes entreprises, CGPME), the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF), and the Craftwork Employers' Association (Union professionnelle artisanale, UPA).

Five trade unions: the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT), the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l’encadrement – confédération générale des cadres, CFE-CGC), the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC), the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT), the General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail – Force ouvrière, CGT-FO).

  • The State

The national vocational training system works on legislation and also seeks to stimulate initiatives via the intervention of ministerial departments. In France, the organization of vocational training is entrusted to the Regional Councils as part of decentralisation. Via OPCA (Joint registered collection agencies), the social partners take part in setting up training at sector level.


In October 2006, according to the Central Offices of the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Vocational Training (Direction générale de l'emploi et de la formation professionnelle, DGEFP), ‘the reform has gained a rapid foothold in sectors and companies that were already developing a skills-based human resources management policy’. While all employees are affected, target groups have been defined: young people (and new recruits), the older workers, women and SME-SMI employees.

While the access rate to CVT was 35% in 2003, it rose to 42.8% in 2006 with the average course, as covered by the training plan, lasting 30 hours. According to the Employment Policy Council (Conseil d’orientation pour l’emploi, COE), ‘most frequently the training courses were one-off adaptation courses for a specific post’.

Furthermore, this access rate conceals major disparities in terms of levels of initial training, socio-professional category and professional environment (company size, business sector, skills and qualifications).

At the end of 2006 in mainland France, the training access rate for job seekers was 9.8%. State funded training courses excluding the National Adult Vocational Training Organisation (Association nationale pour la formation professionnelle des adultes, AFPA) are slightly longer than the average (4.7 months), while training courses funded by the Associations for Employment in Industry and Commerce (Associations pour l'emploi dans l'industrie et le commerce, ASSEDIC) are shorter (3.1 months).

While job seekers have less access to training than employees (13.2% compared with 27.7%), when they do undertake training it is on average four times longer than the training undertaken by employees. Likewise for employees, access is contingent upon educational level, job type (with the higher intellectual professions benefiting more than manual workers) and age (the over-fifties participate in training less than younger people).

The funding of the CVT system:

Public/private balance (possibly disaggregating funding by private employers, individuals, other sources, such as collective bipartite funds).

The legal contribution rate for employers in vocational training development is 0.55% for companies with under ten employees, 1.05% for companies with 10 to 19 employees and 1.6% for companies with 20 or more employees. Collective agreements can make provision for higher rates.

In 2005, spending on continuous vocational training and apprenticeships reached €25.9 billion (up 3.5% compared with 2004) with €10.5 billion being provided by companies, €4.4 billion by the State and €3.2 billion by the Regions. This total of €25.9 billion also included €5.5 billion spent by the public authorities on training for public sector employees.

Since 2002, the country’s contribution to vocational training and apprenticeships has remained stable at 1.5% of GDP.

As the main source of funding for continuous vocational training and apprenticeships, companies contributed €10.5 billion in 2005 (41% of total expenditure), of which €8.6 billion was for continuous vocational training for employees and €1.9 billion for continuous professional training and apprenticeships for young people.

As the second biggest source of funding, the State contributed 17% of total expenditure. It spent €4.4 billion in 2005 on continuous vocational training for young people, job seekers and private-sector employees.

During the same year, the regions spent €3.2 billion on continuous vocational training and apprenticeships. Expenditure is increasing sharply (up 58% between 1999 and 2005) and is allocated as a priority to apprenticeships and continuous vocational training for young people.

The three civil services allocated €5.5 billion to continuous vocational training for their employees in 2005.

The presence of public incentives to support private investment in CVT.

Yes (see 1.2 a)

The role of the European Social Fund.

The European Social Fund also provides funding for training (CVT). The Fund constitutes one of the sources of funding alongside public funding and OPCA as presented by the Centre INFFO.

The role of social dialogue and collective bargaining in the CVT system

Since the September 2003 national inter-professional agreement (FR0311103F) and the May 2004 law, the social partners have been the main training actors. This can be seen in the sector-wide agreements that have been signed and which, apart from a very few exceptions, have led to the vast majority of sectors making provision for training and the right to information.

The January 2008 inter-professional agreement recently confirmed this (FR0802049I).

For example, this agreement makes provision for portability and improving some employee rights.

Employees are guaranteed certain rights including during periods of unemployment. They thus keep 100% of what is left of their right to training time that has accumulated in the framework of the individual right to training (Droit individuel de formation, DIF) (FR0311103F, FR0711019I). The number of hours concerned can be converted into training, skills assessment, validating work experience (validation des acquis de l’expérience, VAE) or other support services to reintegrate into the labour market as soon as possible.

What is the role of the social partners in the governance of the CVT system (managing CVT initiatives, monitoring, auditing and assessment, participating in bodies raising and/or monitoring funds dedicated to CVT, etc.)? Since 2002, have any relevant changes or developments taken place?

The social partners still have a leading role.

In relation to legislative provisions, what is the role of social dialogue and collective bargaining in CVT in your country, specifying the relative importance of the different bargaining levels? Since 2002, have any relevant changes or developments taken place?Please consider all the following levels, as long as they are relevant for CVT in your country:

Social dialogue and intersectoral agreements at national level.

There are three main actors:

  • Regional Councils

The 13th August 2004 law stipulates ‘the Region defines and implements the regional apprenticeship and vocational training policy for young people and adults who are seeking employment or a career change’.

The Regional Policy is funded by the Regional Fund for Apprenticeships and Vocational Training (Fonds régional de l’apprentissage et de la formation professionnelle), financed mainly by the transfer of State funds (State allocations corresponding to the successive skill transfers to the Regional Councils), the Region’s own resources and European Social Fund co-funding.

  • The Social partners

National inter-trade agreements included in the law are negotiated by employers’ and employees’ unions. Joint collection agencies collect continuous vocational training contributions made by companies. ‘In 2008, there were 97 Organismes paritaires collecteurs agréés, OPCA (Joint registered collection agencies): 40 national professional organizations, two national inter-trade and inter-sector organizations (OPCALIA and AGEFOS-PME), 24 regional inter-trade organisations (OPCALIA) and 31 organisations’ (source: the Employment Policy Council (Conseil d’orientation pour l’emploi, COE).

  • The State

However, the State has kept regulatory supervisory power (legislative and regulatory framework) over CVT and apprenticeships. It organises and funds initiatives targeting a number of groups (young people, job seekers, people with disabilities, people with literacy problems and prisoners.)

Sectoral level.

See 2.1 and 2.1.3 with the work of the social partners being channelled via the industry or sectoral OPCA.

Territorial and local levels.

See 2.1 and 2.1.3 with the work of the social partners being channelled via the regional OPCA.

Professional level.

See 2.1

Company level, if possible, differentiating between larger firms and SMEs. If relevant, also refer to multinational companies with/without European Works Councils.

No information available.

Collective Bargaining on CVT

The workers covered by collective bargaining on CVT ( number of workers, coverage rates), specifying the type of the relevant collective agreements (intersectoral, regional/territorial, sectoral, professional, company).

In theory, 100% of employees are covered. The implementation with agreements at industry and sector level helps to increase the number of employees actually benefiting from the scheme (CVT). There is currently no comprehensive review available; one should be carried out in 2008 (FR0711019I).

As previously mentioned, there is currently no comprehensive review of agreements that have been signed. However, information available on the dedicated website reveals that the vast majority of the agreements covering the vast majority of sectors have been made at sectoral level.

By focussing on the collective bargaining level which is most relevant in your country (intersectoral, regional/territorial, sectoral, professional, company – see section II.3 above), please provide the following information on the features of collectively agreed CVT initiatives and try to highlight whenever possible changes and trends since 2002:

We will not present any specific case studies as the space allocated only enables a brief description to be provided.

The beneficiaries of CVT initiatives regulated by collective bargaining: all employees or specific groups (like women, unemployed, part-timers, fixed-term workers, temporary agency workers, full-timers, older workers, new recruits, managers, white-collars, blue-collars, low-qualified, young, apprentices/trainees, immigrants).

In October 2006, according to the Direction générale de l'emploi et de la formation professionnelle, DGEFP (the Central Offices of the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Vocational Training), “the reform has gained a rapid foothold in sectors and companies that were already developing a skills-based human resources management policy.” While all employees are affected, target groups have been defined: young people, the over-fifties, women and SME-SMI employees.

In March 2006, part of the government’s fight against youth unemployment, the prime minister decided to create a ‘first job contract’ (Contrat première embauche, CPE) for workers aged under 26 years (FR0605059I). This move was carried out as an emergency legislative procedure involving a vote by parliament without debate, under the authority vested in the government by Article 49.3 of the constitution. If the young worker was ineligible for unemployment benefit, and if they had been employed for at least four months, he/she would receive a flat-rate benefit of €16.40 per day for two months. The ‘individual right to training’ (droit individuel à la formation, DIF) (FR0311103F) accrued after one month instead of one year, as is the case with other types of contract.

Negotiations among the French social partners on promoting employment for older workers opened in February 2005 and resulted in a draft national intersectoral agreement in October 2005 (FR0512104F). The agreement states the explicit objective of reaching a 50% employment rate for the 55/64 year-old age group by 2010, with a 2 percentage-point rise being set as the annual target. Workers aged 50 or over may, as a matter of right, use their ‘individual training entitlement’ (droit individuel à la formation, DIF).

The type of CVT initiatives introduced by collective bargaining: on the job/off the job, courses, workshops, training leave, training plans, specific actions, etc.

No significant change since 2002.

The training content of CVT initiatives introduced by collective bargaining: high/low skills, general/specific skills, etc.

All the scenarios are possible even if the situation can vary from one sector to another and the degree of specialisation of professions may lead to advanced and specialised training courses being provided. However, the agreements generally make provision for a training plan with three types of training:

  • Schemes seeking to ensure that the employee adapts to the post.
  • Schemes linked to job changes or helping to maintain employees in employment.
  • Schemes aiming to develop the skills of employees.

The compensation of time spent on CVT initiatives introduced by collective bargaining: paid vs. non-paid.

Training implemented under the training plan mainly takes place during working hours. However, it can partially or completely take place outside of working hours in a range of conditions, depending on the type of training.

Employees can request to take a training course included in the company’s training plan. The law does not stipulate any specific procedure for this: the request and response are formulated freely, in accordance with standard practice or contractual provisions that may exist in the company. If the employer approves the request, the employee’s training period still falls within the scope of the normal execution of the employment contract and cannot be reclassified as a Right to Educational Leave.

On the other hand, an employee does not have the right to refuse to take a training course covered by the training plan: the employer’s request falls under the scope of its managerial authority, and failure to agree to the request can be deemed to be professional misconduct.

When an employee goes on a training course under the training plan, this falls within the scope of the normal execution of the employment contract: throughout the entire duration of the training course, the employee remains under the legal authority of the employer. The employee’s rights and obligations during training stem from this principle.

The employee receives a training allowance equivalent to 50% of his or her basic net salary from the company, although some agreements may make provision for 100% of the employee’s salary being paid during training.

The integration in the national CVT system of CVT initiatives introduced by collective bargaining: (i) the accreditation/certification of learning processes (awarded/non awarded and the link with relevant bodies/institutions); (ii) certification of learning outcomes (certified/non certified - please specify type of certification and the link with relevant bodies/institutions).

Training provided by the OPCA, organizations accredited at national level by the State, is rigorously supervised. This means that the organizations are accredited and qualifications or training received are certified. The employer is under no obligation to recognise skills obtained during training (by a change of skill level or a pay increase) unless it undertook to do so or if the employment contract or the collective agreement applicable to the company makes provision for the recognition of skills. Furthermore, if training takes place completely or partially outside of working time, before the employee starts the training, the employer must undertake to allow the employee, within a year of completing the training, to have priority access to the available roles corresponding to the skills gained and to give an appropriate classification to the post held.

The introduction of an ‘individual right’ to training by collective bargaining and how this right is ensured.

Employees on permanent contracts with at least one year of service in the company. They are entitled to receive training whether they are full or part-time. For the latter group, the entitlement acquired under the DIF (individual right to training) is calculated at a pro rata rate using working hours.

When calculating individual right to training entitlement, any absence due to maternity leave, adoption leave, parental leave or parental childcare leave is fully taken into account.

Under the Individual Right to Training, employees on permanent contracts and working fulltime are entitled to a minimum of 20 hours training per year, unless other more favourable contractual provisions are in force. Those employed part-time acquire hours of training calculated at a pro rata rate using working hours. For example, a part-time post will entitle the employee to 10 hours of training per year.

Employees on permanent contracts who do not use their entitlement acquired under the DIF can build up hours year-on-year, in accordance with the following conditions:

  • Full-time employees can build up training hours for a maximum of six years, without exceeding the ceiling of 120 hours.
  • A ceiling of 120 hours is also applied to part-time employees, however long it takes to achieve them. Therefore, for example, an employee working part-time who acquires 10 hours per year under the DIF could build up these rights over a twelve-year period.

Any training undertaken under the DIF uses hours from the total built up. In this way, an employee who had reached the 120 hours ceiling drops back down to 80 if s/he undertakes a 40 hour training course. The employee can subsequently build up entitlement once again up to a limit of 120 hours.

The employee is responsible for implementing the DIF in agreement with his or her employer. The law does not stipulate the training request procedure. The request should be made in writing and include the information that the employer needs to take a decision (training course in question and duration, for example). The law makes no provision for a set timescale for formulating the request, but the employee must make the request sufficiently in advance in the knowledge that the employer has a period of one month in which to respond. Moreover, collective agreements can include timescales for putting in a request. The choice of training course must be approved by the employer. The employer has a timescale of one month to respond to the employee who has requested its agreement in order to exercise his or her right to training under the DIF. If no response is received within this timescale, the training course chosen by the employee is understood to have been accepted.

Priority training courses can be defined by collective company, industry-wide or inter-trade agreements. Employees can select a course from the range of priority courses, although they are not obliged to do so. In the event of there being no such agreement, training courses accessible under the DIF are training courses leading to a higher level of skills and qualifications, or skills acquisition, upkeep or enhancement courses.

The presence and characteristics of joint committees to monitor and follow up the CVT initiatives introduced by collective bargaining.

Depending on the level of the agreement (sectoral or company), contractually stipulated monitoring of the agreement takes place at that level.

In the case of companies, the committee generally includes trade union and management representatives (plant managers or heads of human resources, disabled workers inclusion officers). If necessary the committee can include representatives of the CHSCT (workplace health and safety committee), the CE (works council), the CCE (the central works council), the company medical service, and the employee welfare department. The role of the committee is to discuss annual programmes and their application, monitoring and review. Meetings of this commission can be used to further increase the awareness of inclusion stakeholders about the employment policy for workers with disabilities, depending on the frequency of meetings chosen by the company (quarterly, annual etc.)

Main positions of the social partners on the CVT

After six months of discussion, the French Senate delivered a report to the Prime Minister on 11 July 2007 which underlined the urgent need for a reform of the vocational training system. The report paints a rather bleak picture of the existing schemes which get bogged down ‘in complexity, contradict one another in corporatisms, and come up against barriers’. This current report is the latest in a long line of official reports, white papers and other expert reports dating back over more than 15 years. It supports the opinions of the vast majority of vocational training stakeholders who criticise the ‘system’s inability to fight inequality’. The senators’ main guideline is to make people responsible for themselves by individualising the right to training throughout their working lives.

In December 2003, employer and trade union organisations concluded a national multi-industry agreement which redefined the various training schemes and created the individual right to training (droit individuel à la formation, DIF) (FR0606019I). In April 2007, the ‘Individual right to training’ Steering Evaluation Committee adopted a work method and a schedule for implementation. An evaluation report was planned for the end of 2007. During 2008, detailed analysis of each chapter of the agreement will be carried out with a view to creating ‘a formalised, quantitative and qualitative report on the implementation of the measures contained in the agreement’.

The employer organisations have expressed the most concern about the reform measures contained in the Senate report, and in particular regarding the abolition of the obligatory contribution to the training plan. Described as ‘a trap’ by the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF), this measure, as underlined by the General Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Confédération générale des petites et moyennes entreprises, CGPME), would not actually mean that the contribution completely disappears. Instead, it would be moved from a scheme managed by the companies, such as training plans, to a joint decision-making scheme between employees and employers, such as the individual right to training or the individual educational leave schemes.

The employer organisations have serious reservations about the process of regrouping the joint sector training bodies under their control. Furthermore, MEDEF opposes the principle of the transferability of the individual right to training.

The trade unions have vigorously and unanimously rejected two of the measures contained in the report. They condemn the abolition of the 0.9% compulsory company contributions and are concerned about the effect of companies pulling out of the training plan. The General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT) fears that ‘employees’ employability will only depend on themselves’, and that the employers’ obligation to support its employees in adapting to a given post will be reduced. The trade unions also object to the proposed merger between the National Employment Agency (Agence nationale pour l’emploi, ANPE) and the National Union for Employment in Industry and Commerce (Union nationale interprofessionnelle pour l’emploi dans l’industrie et le commerce, UNEDIC) (FR0804079I). For instance, the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT) considers the merger to be a ‘political move’, as it is a labour market and not a training issue. According to the General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail – Force ouvrière, CGT-FO), it is premature to remove the DIF at this point, as it has not produced its full effects yet; a majority of wage earners have yet to accumulate a sizeable proportion of training hours before they can avail of the benefits of such training. The French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l’encadrement – confédération générale des cadres, CFE-CGC), for its part, is critical of the idea of implementing a training scheme subsidised by the state to substitute the current principle of pooling funding provided by companies, which is then redistributed between small and big enterprises depending on their training needs. It seems that only the National Federation of Independent Unions (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes, UNSA) is in favour of this project. More generally, the trade union organisations have cast doubts over whether the report will actually be followed up.


Employees’ access rate to CVT reached 42.8% in 2006 but the majority of courses meet the functional objective of adapting to a given post. Likewise, there are major disparities between the various sectors and linked to company size and socio-professional category. In addition, due to this unequal level of access, vocational training only partially plays the social mobility role assigned to it.

In June 2007, the Economic and Social Council (Conseil économique et social, CES) adopted a recommendation on making career paths secure (FR0710029I). The recommendation pleads for a pragmatic approach with better anticipation and control by each person of their own career path.

The social partners would like the necessary developments in the governance of vocational training to take place within a negotiated framework, as has been the case since the beginning of the 1970s. Some of the measures could be discussed as part of the negotiations on employment security in 2008.

Yves Lochard, Benoît Robin , Institute for Economic and Social Research (IRES)

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