France: Working life country profile

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Health and well-being at work,
  • Pay and income,
  • Skills and training,
  • Work organisation,
  • Working time,
  • Labour market participation,
  • Collective bargaining,
  • Social partners,
  • Social partners,
  • Inequality,
  • Working conditions,
  • Employment and labour markets,
  • Industrial relations,
  • Labour and social regulation,
  • Living conditions and quality of life,
  • Social policies,
  • Employment and labour markets,
  • Published on: 25 November 2015

Sebastian Schulze-Marmeling, Hélène Tissandier and Frédéric Turlan
IR Share and Université Paris-Dauphine

This profile describes the key characteristics of working life in France. It aims to complement other Eurofound research, by providing the relevant background information on structures, institutions and relevant regulations regarding working life. This includes indicators, data and regulatory systems on the following aspects: actors and institutions, collective and individual employment relations, health and well-being, pay, working time, skills and training, and equality and non-discrimination at work. The profiles are updated annually.

Key figures

Comparative figures on working life in France                                          




% (point) change














Unemployment rate – total







Unemployment rate  women







Unemployment rate – men







Unemployment rate  youth







Employment rate – total







Employment rate  women







Employment rate  men







Employment rate  youth







Source: Eurostat - Unemployment rate by sex and age - annual average,  % [une_rt_a]; Purchasing power parities (PPPs), price level indices and real expenditures for ESA 2010 aggregates [prc_ppp_ind]). *metropolitan figures.


Economic and labour market context

Between 2010 and 2015, France’s GDP increased 10.9%, slightly below the EU average for the same period (13%). Unemployment figures during this time saw some increases, in particular for men (1.8 percentage points) and youth (1.4 percentage points); the unemployment rate for the latter stood at 24.7% in 2015, above the EU average for the same year (20.3%). Employment figures for 2010–2015 for France are only available for the metropolitan areas. The largest increase was in female employment (1.8 percentage points), which reached 67.6% in 2015. The youth employment rate decreased 1.6 percentage points, standing at 37.3% in 2015, below the EU average (41.5%).

More information on:


Legal context

The whole labour legislation, including regulations regarding employers’ representation, trade union representation and collective bargaining, is integrated into the Labour Code.

In December 2013, the French Government passed legislation to simplify the vocational training system by introducing an individual training account.

The national labour inspectorate was substantially reformed during 2014. Legislation includes a reorganisation of local structures and new responsibilities for inspectors.

In July 2014, new legislation on posted workers reinforced the responsibility of contractors for their subcontractors. In the same month, policy-makers also strengthened the protections for interns.

In June 2015, the Parliament reformed the French employment tribunal system (conseil de prud’hommes) to simplify and speed up the process of tribunal claims, and to improve training for lay judges. In July 2015, a law was adopted that leads on substantial reforms of the industrial relations system.

Industrial relations context

French industrial relations have always been tense and dominated by the strong involvement of the state and the law. In 1884, the law recognised the freedom of association and the first laws relating to collective bargaining were passed in 1919. A first step towards their generalisation and extended coverage was achieved by law in 1950, establishing the sector as the main level for bargaining. In 1971, collective bargaining at ‘inter-sectoral (cross-industry) level was also established. Finally, the ‘Auroux laws’ of 1982 developed collective bargaining at workplace or company level, also establishing an annual obligation to negotiate wages and working time.

There is a traditional lack of mutual recognition between the social partners that could explain the interventionist role of the state in industrial and social matters, but many changes have taken place in the last 30 years. The state is losing its influence as a regulator in a globalised economy, and similarly as regulator of labour.

In recent decades, a decentralised bargaining system has been developed, giving companies more autonomy from both labour legislation and national/sectoral collective agreements. The industrial relations agenda has shifted to a large extent from wages to employment and production issues. The social partners have been committed to taking the initiative in reducing the effects of the global economic crisis on the national social and economic situation.

In the 2000s, two laws have been significant in the field, leading to profound upheavals in the French industrial relations system: a reform of collective bargaining which materialised through a national cross-sectoral agreement in 2004; and a reform of the principles governing the representativeness of trade unions in 2008. More recently, social partners failed to modernise the system of industrial relations and the Parliament has finally adopted a law on this issue that introduces changes for social dialogue at the workplace.

Actors and Institutions

Trade unions, employers’ organisations and public institutions play a key role in the governance of the employment relationship, working conditions and industrial relations structures. They are interlocking parts in a multilevel system of governance that includes the European, national, sectoral, regional (provincial or local) and company levels. This section looks into the main actors and institutions and their role in France.

Public authorities involved in regulating working life

The state continues to play a crucial role in French industrial relations. The system is highly regulated, the Government sets the minimum wage and the Ministry of Labour extends virtually all collective agreements, and an increasing number of issues are subject to compulsory negotiations at sectoral or company level.

In recent years, however, a series of laws has been passed that delegates the regulation of certain issues to social partners, typically at company level. For instance, there are obligations, sometimes on an annual or multi-annual basis, to negotiate on wages and the organisation of working time, gender equality, on the professional insertion of disabled workers, financial participation, or employment of older workers. On some of the issues, a sectoral agreement may substitute negotiations at company level.

Individual employment rights are enforced by the French employment tribunal system (conseils de prud’hommes). Cases are presented in front of a panel of four lay judges composed of two representatives from both the unions and the employers. Lay judges used to be elected, but the universal suffrage is expected to be repealed, according to a draft reform bill currently under review. Further substantial reforms of the employment tribunal system are expected for 2015.


Since 1966, five trade union confederations have been considered representative at national level: the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT); the French Democratic Federation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT); the General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail – Force Ouvrière, CGT-FO); the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC); and 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).

Until recent legislative changes, each trade union at a local or sectoral level that was affiliated with one of these confederations was also considered to be representative (‘presumption of representativeness’). Unions without affiliation had to prove their representativeness in the courts, with the representativeness criteria established by law and case law.

These principles were modified in 2008 with the law on ‘social democracy and working time reform’. Regardless of affiliation, representativeness now depends primarily on the ‘electoral audience’. That is, to be representative and therefore able to participate in negotiations, a trade union must win at least 10% of the votes at workplace level, the ratio being 8% at sectoral industry level.

In terms of national cross-sectoral representativeness, the first round of elections in 2013 has resulted in granting the status to all five unions that had been considered representative previously. It is expected that the new rules of representativeness will have a substantial impact on the French union movement and in particular on the small federations.

Trade unions

About trade union representation

The term ‘paradox of French unionism’ (Wolff, 2008) describes the combination of very low union density but strong presence at workplace level (see below). Trade union density in France is among the lowest in Europe. Only some 8% of the French workforce belong to a union. This proportion has been relatively stable over the past 10 years. Unions are particularly strong in the public sector and among permanent full-time employees.

Observers bring forward a range of explanations, two of which are particularly prominent. First, French unions are weak in terms of membership, but prominently present at the workplace and union membership is often closely linked to union engagement.  Elsewhere almost one French union member in five is an active employee representative. Second, virtually all collective agreements are extended to the entire sector leading to a very high coverage rate of above 90% and this invites employees to ‘free ride’, enjoying the benefits negotiated by unions without having to commit to union membership.

Trade union membership and trade union density








Trade union density in terms of active employees






OECD/Visser (2014), based on administrative data from the main French union confederations

Trade union membership in 1,000s






OECD/Visser (2014), based on administrative data from the main French union confederations

Main trade union confederations and federations

Trade unions are national organisations. France has five trade unions recognised as representative at a national level. They are mentioned in the table below. National representativeness also gives unions the same status in all sectors. All membership figures are self-reported and are likely to be overestimated.

Other unions have significant influence but do not yet have representative status at national level, but they might well conduct collective bargaining at company level or, if they have met the sectoral threshold in the latest elections, sectoral level.

  • SUD – Union Syndicale Solidaire / Trade Union Solidarity is the historical continuity of the ‘Group of 10’ born out of a meeting of 10 autonomous unions or federations in late 1981 to create a distinct form of association compared to the confederal model of unionism. It has 39 member unions, including 26 SUD (Solidarity Democratic Unitarians).
  • UNSA – Union nationale de Syndicats Autonomes/ National Union of Autonomous Trade Unions was founded in 1993 after an internal split in the National Education Federation (FEN). It brings together several independent unions and federations.
  • Other independent unions not part of any national coordination are organised on a professional basis and / or geography.

Main trade union confederations and federations

Long name



Involved in collective bargaining

Confédération générale du travail/ General Confederation of Labour


694,857 (2013)


Confédération Française démocratique du Travail/French Democratic Confederation of Labour


868,601 (2012)


Confédération Générale du Travail-Force Ouvrière/General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière


500,000 (2011)


Confédération des Travailleurs Chrétiens/French Christian Workers’ Confederation


135,000 (2013)


Confédération Générale de l’Encadrement-Confédération générale des cadre/French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff


160,000 (2014)


For the first time since the reform of trade union representativity in 2008 (see above), the popularity of private sector trade unions at the national, inter-professional and sector levels has been evaluated by their share of worker’s votes. On 29 March 2013, the Ministry of Labour published data based on the results of workplace elections. However, the participation rate was only 42.78% (this increases to 66% if the results of elections held in SMEs are excluded).

According to the published data (in French, 32 KB PDF), the five main trade union confederations with membership across the entire economy maintained their representativeness. The CGT had 26.77% of the votes, slightly ahead of the CFDT with 26%. The CGT-FO came third, with 15.94% of the votes, followed by CFE-CGC at 9.43%. The CFTC had 9.30%, retaining its status of representativity despite the predictions of a number of experts that the union would fail to achieve the threshold of 8%. The recently created trade unions SUD (Solidarity, Unity, Democracy), which tends to take a rather radical position, and UNSA (Union of autonomous trade unions) both failed to reach the 8% threshold at the national level, with a score of 4.26% and 3.47% respectively.

The reform of trade union representativeness by the Act of 20 August  2008 could lead to a profound modification of the French trade union landscape. Some organisations, such as the CFTC, may lose their representativeness at the national level. Conversely, other organisations such as UNSA might see recognition of their representativeness at the national level.

Employers’ organisations

About employers’ representation

Membership of employer organisations is voluntary in France, with organisations competing to attract members. Most of the country’s employers are members of at least one employer organisation. In contrast with the trade unions, employers’ ‘organisational density’ was considered to be quite high (Traxler, 2004). Yet a new study by Pignoni on 2011 survey data shows that only 44% of all private sector companies with more than 10 employees are members of an employers’ association. This indicates that previous estimates, which added the total membership figures of all confederations, strongly overestimated the representativeness of employers’ associations in France. The reason for this is that many companies are members of several organisations. Moreover, membership figures are not clearly published (however, a list of federated members is available on the websites).

Employers’ organisations – membership and density







Employers’ organisation density in terms of active employees





Visser (2014), estimations for 2010

Employers’ organisation density in private sector establishments*





European Company Survey 2013

Employers’ organisation membership in private sector establishments





Pignoni (2015)

Percentage of employees working in an establishment that is a member of any employer organisation that is involved in collective bargaining.

Main employers’ organisations

The Movement of French Enterprises (MEDEF) was established in 1998 to succeed the former National Council of French Employers (Conseil national du patronat français, CNPF). The MEDEF is a multi-layered confederation of sectoral and territorial organisations bringing together companies with more than 10 employees. It organises 87 federations that cover some 600 associations and 165 regional organisations. It seeks to cover all companies, whatever their size, in all geographic and professional sectors. An indication of the relative importance of the organisations can be found in the review of accounts. The annual resources of the CGPME (Confédération générale du patronat des petites et moyennes entreprises) are around €10 million, while those of MEDEF exceed €36 million.

There is also an employers’ organisation representing the not-for-profit sector, the Union of employers of the social economy (Union des employeurs de l’économie sociale et solidaire) UDES, formerly USGERES) that represents 80% of the sector’s employers.

Since the Act of 20 August 2008, in particular, the issue of representativeness criteria for the employers' organisations has been regularly raised, whether by trade unions, by employer organisations which are not representative at national level, or by political actors. Indeed, regularly, during national negotiations, trade unions such as CGT and CFE-CGC ask for parity between the representativeness rules for unions and employers. This demand has regularly returned to the centre stage in discussions on the modernisation of the ‘paritarisme’. The ‘outsider’ employers' organisations, not invited to the negotiating table or to consultative bodies, regularly ask to be recognised as representative. For example, the Union des syndicats et groupements d’employeurs représentatifs dans l’économie sociale (USGERES) gained 19.05% of the votes in the ‘Conseil de Prud'hommes’ elections of December 2008. Similarly, the Union Nationale des Professions Libérales (UNAPL), for professionals, has asked to be recognised as representative at national level. There were opposing views on this issue for many months between CGPME and MEDEF. CGPME wanted to base representativeness on elections rather than – as MEDEF always requests – on the number of member companies.

In June 2013, the three biggest employers’ organisations in France (Medef, CGPME, UPA) adopted a common position on the subject of representativeness. Although several issues remain unresolved, particularly the validity of agreements, the proposals will clarify the extent to which an employers’ organisation can be judged representative of an industry in relation to its size. The government took account of this position and presented a draft bill on employers’ representativeness on 23 December 2013 that was merged with the draft bill on the reform of vocational training. The reform was adopted in March 2014 (Loi n° 2014-288 du 5 mars 2014 relative à la formation professionnelle, à l'emploi et à la démocratie sociale).

Main employers’ organisations and confederations

Long name




Involved in collective bargaining

Mouvement des Entreprises de France/Movement of French Entreprises





Confédération Générale des Petites et Moyennes Entreprises/Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Entreprises, representing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)





Union Professionnelle Artisanale/Craftwork Employers’ Association, representing self-employed craft workers





Tripartite and bipartite bodies and concertation

First, there is a purely consultative national tripartite body through which employer and trade union confederations can hope to influence government policymaking. The Environmental, Economic and Social Council (Conseil économique, social et environnemental, CESE) is made up of representatives of employer and trade union confederations and other interest groups such as consumers, and experts nominated by the government. The CESE appears to be the body through which the government explains and informs employers and trade unions about its policies, rather than a body with which a genuine consensus is sought.

Secondly, the social partners continue to be heavily involved in the management of certain social security provisions, such as public health insurance, unemployment benefits and social welfare boards. The social partners also play a central role in the supplementary private health insurance system (mutuelles) and pension plans. They are involved in the system of vocational training. The national system of policy concertation is complemented by a tripartite social dialogue in development at the regional or local level.

Furthermore Law 2007-130 of 31 January, 2007 on modernisation of social dialogue (in French) makes it obligatory to consult national-level representatives of trade unions and employer organisations beforehand when proposing reforms in the field of industrial relations, employment and vocational training. The government should provide these organisations with a policy document presenting the ‘diagnoses, objectives and principal options’ of the proposed reform. The social partners will then be able to indicate whether they intend to embark on negotiations and how much time they need to reach an agreement. This procedure will not apply in ‘emergency situations’; in such cases, the government would have to justify its decision, which can be legally challenged.

When drawing up a draft law following the consultation procedure, the government is not obliged to adopt the content of a collective agreement as it is. However, depending on the issue at hand, it must submit the bill to:

  • the National Collective Bargaining Commission (Commission nationale de la négociation collective, CNNC) for reforms concerning industrial relations;
  • the National Employment Committee (Conseil national de l’emploi, CNE) for reforms in relation to employment;
  • the National Council for Lifelong Vocational Training (Conseil national de la formation professionnelle tout au long de la vie, CNFPTLV) for reforms with regard to training.

The social partners that are represented in these bodies can assess whether or not the government’s proposals are in line with the relevant collective agreement and, if necessary, to give their opinion.

Main tripartite and bipartite bodies

Name Type Level Issues covered




Economic policy, public health, finance




Collective bargaining








Vocational training

Workplace-level employee representation

In France, employees are represented through trade unions and structures directly elected by all workers. Representation for workers has been obligatory since 1945 at all workplaces with more than 11 or 50 employees, depending on the structure. These bodies are largely regulated by law. Nevertheless, there is room for regulation through collective negotiation as the social partners can create information and consultative bodies by collective agreement, to improve information and consultation within the company. They may negotiate improvements in facilities for employee representatives such as more paid time off or more resources.

Trade unions

Since 1968, trade union rights have been recognised by companies and trade unions have been entitled to appoint shop stewards (délégués syndicaux, Labour Code, Articles L2143-1 to L2146-2), who have the power to negotiate and sign collective agreements at company level. The other worker representation bodies do not have this power if there is at least one shop steward. Since the reform of representativeness in 2008, unions not recognised as representative in an undertaking can appoint a ‘representative of the union’ (représentant de la section syndicale, RSS, Labour Code, Articles L2142-1-1 to L2142-1-4) who has similar rights to an appointed shop steward except the right to negotiate collective agreements.

Works council

The council is a legal entity, which, as a collegial body, is composed of members elected by the employees, representatives of the company management and representatives nominated by the unions.

Works councils can be formed at either company level (comité d’entreprise – Labour Code, Article L2321-1) or establishment level (comité d’établissement). Works councils receive information from employers on issues such as the economic and social aspects of the company and new technology. They also respond to formal consultations by employers on topics such as redundancies and vocational training (without formal negotiation power), and are responsible for managing social and cultural activities for which they have a budget (0.2% of the company’s annual payroll) (Labour Code, Articles L2323-1 to L2323-5).

Since a bill adopted on 23 July 2015, if the employer has fewer than 300 workers, after consultation with staff representatives it can decide to establish a single body (Délégation unique du personnel, DUP, Labour Code, Article L2326-1 to L2326-3). This does not replace the Works Council but assimilates the CE (comité d’établissement), DP (délégués du personnel) and the committee deals with health and safety issues (see below) under one body, which performs the tasks of both by those elected.

In a group of companies, a group-level works council can be created (comité de groupe, Labour Code, Articles L2331-1 to L2335-1), which enjoys similar rights to those of ordinary works councils.

In a multi-establishment company, works councils also form a central works council (comité central d’entreprise, CCE, Labour Code Article L2327-1 to L2327-14) which covers establishment works councils (comité d’établissement, Labour Code, Articles L2327-15 to L2327-19)

A company with a Europe-wide operation can create a European Works Council (Comité d’entreprise européen, CEE, Labour Code, Articles L2341-1 to L2346-1) which can be merged, according to the Labour Code, with the group-level works council, if employees’ representatives agree.

Staff delegates

The staff delegates (délégués du personnel, Labour Code, Article L2311-1) should be elected by all workers in all private sector establishments with more than 10 employees and are responsible for presenting individual and collective grievances to management and ensuring the implementation of legislation and collective agreements (Labour Code, Articles L2313-1 to L2313-12). SMEs with fewer than 11 employees have no legal requirement to create an information-consultation body or to hold an election for a workplace representative. However, a decision to create one can be taken by collective agreement.

Since a bill adopted on 23 July 2015, bipartite regional committees (commissions régionales paritaires) will be set up in the 13 future French regions (after the current merger process in the framework of a territorial reform) to offer the 4.6 million employees working in SMEs with less than 11 employees a coverage by an information and consultative body. The role of the committee is: to provide legal information or advice to employees and employers; to discuss and adopt advises or statements about issues related to SMEs (professional training, employment, health and safety, forecast management of skills).

Health and safety committee

In the private sector, a separate committee deals with health and safety issues (Comité d’hygiène, de santé et des conditions de travail, CHSCT, Labour Code, Articles L4611-1 to L4611-7). In the public sector, since the reform of 2011, the former Health and Safety Committees (comité d’hygiène et de sécurité) have become Health and safety and working conditions committees (Comité d’hygiène, de santé et des conditions de travail, CHSCT). They are no longer a joint committee and only staff representatives have the right to vote. They should be set up in establishments with more than 50 employees.

Technical committees

Information and consultation (I&C) bodies also exist in the public sector, but their organisation is different to that in the private sector. The main consultative bodies within the public services are the technical committees that can be created on four levels: ministerial technical committee (comités techniques ministériels), proximity technical committees (comités techniques de proximité), common or single technical committees (Comités techniques uniques, Comités techniques communs) or specific technical committees (comités techniques spéciaux).

The reform of collective bargaining in the public sector brought about by the law of July 2011 alters the way trade unions’ representativeness is assessed in the public sector, in line with regulations already in place in the private sector since 2008. Since this legislation, workplace elections determine the extent to which trade unions are involved in negotiations, can sign agreements and hold seats on tripartite advisory bodies.

The technical committee has different competences depending on the civil service divisions it belongs to, whether national civil service, public hospitals or local government.

Regulation, composition and competences of the bodies

  Regulation Composition Competences of the body  Threshold/rules when they need to be/can be set up 

Trade union representation


Trade union delegate(s)


50 employees

Works councils


Elected employee representatives, management represenative

Under certain conditions and only if no trade union representation is present

50 employees

Staff delegates


Elected staff representative(s)

Under certain conditions and only if no trade union representation is present

11 employees

Single representation body


Members of works council, health and safety committee and staff representatives, management representative for some of its functions

Under certain conditions and only if no trade union representation is present

Possible for companies with fewer than 300 employees

Health and safety committee


Representatives elected by the works’ council or staff delegates, management representative


50 employees

Employee representation at establishment level


% employees covered*

% establishments covered*

% of establishments covered**

Trade union representation




Works councils




Staff delegates




Health and safety committee




Technical committee




Source: *ECS 2013: Private sector establishments with more than 10 employees.
**DARES 2011: ENQUETE survey from 2011, private sector establishments except for agriculture with more than 10 employees.

Collective employment relations

Collective bargaining

Bargaining system

Wage bargaining in France is predominantly conducted at sectoral level. Typically, central agreements are concluded between employers’ associations and unions at industry level. Subsequently, social partners frequently apply to the Ministry of Labour for an extension of most provisions of the agreement, which is granted in virtually all cases. Therefore, the coverage rate of collective bargaining is estimated to be above 90%. Decentralisation of sectoral bargaining started from the early 1980s (‘Auroux laws’), but the principle of favourability that forbids company agreements from providing less favourable provisions than higher-level agreements was maintained. This principle has been diluted through more recent reforms in 2004, 2008 and 2013.

Wage bargaining coverage

Wage bargaining coverage is very high in France and the ECS figures seem to underestimate the real coverage. In reality, almost all employees are covered by sectoral national wage agreements. Latest national data are outdated, but they show that coverage increased from 93.7% to 97.7% for employees in the private sector between 1997 and 2004. The survey, on which the figures are based (ACEMO), has been discontinued.

Collective wage bargaining coverage of employees from different sources


% employees covered



Any level


2013 – ECS


Any level


2010 – SES


Any levels


Estimate national correspondent

… of all private sector employees

Sources: Eurofound, European Company Survey 2013 (ECS), private sector companies with establishments >10 employees (NACE B-S) – multiple answers possible; Eurostat, Structure of Earnings survey, companies >10 employees (NACE B-S), single answer: more than 50% of employees covered by such an agreement. 

Bargaining levels

Working time is set by law, but its organisation is negotiated at company and sectoral level. There is no mechanism for wage bargaining coordination. Wages are negotiated mainly on the sectoral level, but also frequently on the company level because the legislation stipulates employers (in company with over 50 employees) have to launch a wage negotiation each year. However the minimum wage is fixed by law and has to be respected by sectoral or company-level agreements.

Levels of collective bargaining 2014


National level (intersectoral)

Sectoral level

Company level



Working time


Working time


Working time

Principal or dominant level







Important but not dominant level







Existing level








Minimum wages are determined at sectoral level, but since 2013 regulation, company agreements may under certain conditions negotiate temporary agreements that provide for lower pay rates in exchange for employment security. Since 2008, company agreements may adjust overtime regulation, which has enforced working time negotiations at company level. In general, however, the principle of favourability towards higher level agreements applied.

Timing of the bargaining rounds

There is no clear trend, but wage bargaining activity peaks at the beginning and the end of the year, and in the months before the French summer holidays in August.


The decentralisation of collective bargaining leads to a very weak coordination of wage bargaining. Company-level social partners have important autonomy to negotiate on wage evolution as only minimum rates are negotiated on the sectoral level. In many branches, negotiated minimum wages are still lower than the legal minimum wage that has to be respected. There is little horizontal coordination.

Extension mechanisms

Extension mechanisms are used extensively. This practice means declaring the terms of a collective agreement, negotiated between the representative organisations within a subsector (‘branche’), compulsory for all the employees and employers in that subsector. In order to extend a collective agreement, social partners have to ask the Labour ministry to make a ministerial order. A great number of national sectoral wage agreements are extended resulting in very high coverage rates.

Derogation mechanisms

New legislation on collective bargaining passed in 2008 allows for company agreements to depart from the principle of favourability, but explicitly excludes minimum wage levels negotiated at sectoral level. Recent changes have introduced the possibility for company agreements to provide less favourable pay levels in exchange for job security when the company faces economic difficulties.

Expiry of collective agreements

Sectoral wage agreements do usually not expire. Social partners negotiate annually at sectoral level. If no agreement can be reached, the previous agreement remains in place.

Other aspects of working life addressed in collective agreements

Equality and retaining older workers in employment are relatively new topics that have recorded steady increases over past years, also as a consequence of legislation that obliges social partners to negotiate regularly on gender issues and employment of older workers. The commitment of the social partners to negotiate is due to the historic industrial relations environment, as companies are obliged to negotiate annually on a range of topics (on wages, working time, organisation of work, collective health insurance, financial participation etc) or on a multi-annual basis (gender equality, the employment of disabled workers). Commonly, the commitment is to negotiate but not to reach an agreement. However, on issues related to gender equality or older workers, the employer has to reach an agreement, or if the social partners fail to agree, to adopt a plan of action. Negotiations on employment contracts are also on the rise.

Industrial action and disputes

Legal aspects

The right to strike applies to all employees whether or not there is a trade union involved. Although not all and not even the majority of the employees must be involved, an individual can only go on strike when their action is in relation to national strike action.

In order to be considered as a strike, the action must fulfil three conditions.

  • A complete work stoppage.
  • Consultation with the workforce.
  • Strikers have to issue demands that are related to the terms and conditions of their employment (for instance related to wages, working conditions, or restructuring).

If the three requirements are not met, the strike is considered unlawful. Employees participating in unlawful strikes are not protected by strike legislation and may be sanctioned or dismissed. Unlawful strikes include, for instance, go-slows and acts of sabotage, strikes concerning a particular obligation that is part of the employment contract (such as on-call duty), repeated blockades or occupations of the company without collective work stoppage or employee consultation, and strikes at company level that are purely political.

In the private sector and with the exception of public transport, there is no obligation to inform the employer or to attempt to reach an amicable agreement. There is also no regulation of the minimum or maximum duration of a strike. Occupying company premises and preventing non-strikers from working is also unlawful action.

If the strike is in line with legislation, picketers are protected from sanctions and dismissal on grounds of their participation in the strike. Management may retain a ‘proportional’ part of the striker’s salary and all extra payments, such as compensation for travel expenses.

The employer must provide work and remunerate employees that do not participate in the strike unless they can prove that exercising any activity was impossible as a consequence of the strike.

Incidence of different forms of industrial action 2010–2013

Work-to-rule or refusal to do overtime


Work stoppage or strike for less than a day


Strike of a day or more


Blockade or occupation


Percentage of private sector establishments reporting any form of Industrial action during the indicated period.

Source: European company survey

Industrial action developments 2012–2014







Working days lost per 1000 employees






Percentage of companies that have experienced a strike






Percentage of employees working in companies that have experienced a strike






Source: DARES/Ministry of Labour

Dispute resolution mechanisms

Collective dispute resolution mechanisms

According to Article L2522 of the French Labour Code, all work-related collective conflicts may be subject to conciliation. Therefore, there is a network of Regional Conciliation Commissions and one National Conciliation Commission. These tripartite instances can be called upon in case of any collective conflict. Their composition is usually determined by sectoral agreement.

A recent report on so-called atypical negotiations also names a range of alternative dispute resolution systems, for instance holding the negotiations in the presence of a representative of the Ministry of Labour, or involving other state agencies such as the National Agency for the Improvement of Working Conditions (ANACT).

Individual dispute resolution mechanisms

Individual dispute resolution is very rare in France. The point was raised in the Lacarabats report and has been addressed in recent reforms on the employment tribunal system.

Individual employment relations

Start and termination of the employment relationship

Requirements regarding an employment contract

The minimum working age is 18 years, with derogations for those aged 16 and above for certain roles in the workplace, such as apprenticeships.

An employment contract exists from the time when an individual (the employee) commits to work for and under the management of another person (the employer). Employment contracts should be issued in written form.

Dismissal and termination procedures

The employment contract implies a state of subordination for the employee and grants the employer the right to take disciplinary action against misconduct. Dismissal must be justified by a ‘real and serious cause’. The employer has to comply with strict procedures. This must begin with a letter hand-delivered or sent by registered post to the employee’s home address, inviting them to attend a preliminary meeting. The grounds for considering dismissal must be clearly stated and the meeting must be held on a date at least five days after the letter is due to be delivered to the employee. The letter must also inform the employee that they are entitled to be accompanied at the meeting by a fellow employee or employee representative.

Other termination procedures are: resignation (an employee must prove a clear and unequivocal will to resign); retirement (at the employee’s initiative before he is 70, or at the employer’s initiative after the employee’s 70th birthday) or mutual termination (rupture conventionnelle) which is an agreement between both parties and termination is subject to Labour Inspectorate approval.

Entitlements and obligations

Parental, maternity and paternity leave

Statutory leave arrangements


Maximum duration


Who pays

Legal basis

Maternity leave

Mothers are required to take a minimum of eight weeks’ maternity leave, but are entitled to 16 weeks’ leave (usually six weeks prior to the expected date of delivery and ten weeks after). Two additional weeks prior to delivery may be awarded in the case of a pregnancy with complications. On a doctor's recommendation, the mother may also take part of the prenatal leave after the birth. For a third child, leave is extended to 26 weeks (eight pre-natal and 18 post-natal). Mothers expecting twins or triplets (or more) are entitled to 12 weeks' and 24 weeks' pre-natal leave respectively, and 22 weeks of post-natal benefits. In the case of premature births (more than six weeks before the expected date of delivery), the maternity leave period is increased by the number of days intervening between the date of delivery and the date six weeks before the expected date of birth.

100%, but not more than €82.32 per day

The Assurance maladie (National Health Insurance) unless a sectoral collective agreement obliges the employer to pay

Social Security Code, sectoral collective agreements (if applicable)

Parental leave

The basic duration of parental leave for one child is one year, which is renewable twice, i.e. three years in total. The period may not exceed the third birthday of the child. For more than one child, the period may be extended up to the time when the child goes to school. For three or more children born or adopted at the same time, the maximum period is six years and may not exceed the sixth birthday of the children.

Both mothers and fathers may take parental leave.

Employees do not receive a salary during parental leave, but may use time saved on their working time account.

Not applicable

Labour Code

Paternity leave

For a single child, fathers may take 11 consecutive days after childbirth including Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.

For more than one child, the leave consists of a maximum of 18 days.

In addition, the French Labour Code grants 3 days of leave.

100%, but not more than €82.32 per day if the father has contributed a sum above a certain threshold to social security for at least 10 months.

Assurance maladie

Labour Code, Social Security Code

Sick leave

The employment contract of an employee who is on leave due to illness is considered suspended. Absence due to illness cannot form the basis of a termination. However, in cases of extended or repeated leave, the employer may (under certain conditions) be entitled to terminate the employment contract on the grounds that the employee’s absence hinders the proper functioning of the company and the company is consequently required to permanently replace the employee. The employee will continue to receive their salary during their absence if they fulfil certain conditions set by the Labour Code or by the applicable collective bargaining agreement, if more favourable. During sickness, salaries are paid by the National Health Insurance.

Retirement age

The retirement age is 62 for employees born in or after 1955 and between 60 and 62 for people born before. Early retirement is possible. Employees may take retirement with full pensions at the age of 60 if they have contributed to social security for 41.75 years (167 quarters) and at the age of 58 if they have contributed for 43.75 years (175 quarters). Slightly different thresholds apply for people born before 1960. A recognised disability also gives a right to early retirement. There is no difference in legal retirement age for men and women.


Minimum wages

The legal minimum wage (SMIC) is adjusted annually on 1 January of each year by Government. It is indexed to inflation (without considering tobacco) for households that belong to the lowest disposable income quintile. Half of the growth in purchasing power of the average hourly wage for workers and employees is added to the result. If inflation exceeds 2% during the year, the SMIC is automatically adjusted. In addition, the Government may decide, at any time, to increase the minimum wage above the calculated rate. It is forbidden to pay workers below the legal minimum wage even though sector-level collective agreements maintain minimum agreed wages lower than the legal minimum wage. The SMIC covers all employees with the exception of young workers in apprenticeship or state subsidised employment contract who receive a reduced minimum wage.

For more information regarding the level and development of minimum wages, please see Eurofound’s annual update on developments in collectively agreed pay or visit Eurostat.

Collectively agreed pay outcomes

For more detailed information on the most recent outcomes in terms of collectively agreed pay, please consult Eurofound’s collectively wage bargaining portal or Eurofound’s most recent annual update on developments in collectively agreed pay.

Working time

Working time regulation

French statutory working time is 35 hours per week. The ‘Aubry laws’ of 1998 and 2000 reduced the statutory working week from 39 to 35 hours from 2000 for all companies employing more than 20 people, and from 2002 for smaller companies. All French companies have negotiated working time reductions between 2000 and 2004. The law permits a variety of flexible arrangements whereby companies may derogate (within limits) from certain provisions of the working time legislation, provided such arrangements are negotiated and organised through collective bargaining. This applies, for example, to the annual calculation of overtime if the agreement provides for an annual adjustment of working hours, or in the calculation of executives’ working time by days worked in the course of the year (Boulin & Cette, 2008).

For more detailed information on working time (including annual leave, statutory and collectively agreed working time), please consult Eurofound’s most recent annual update on working time.

Overtime regulation

Every hour worked above the legally fixed 35 hours counts as overtime. Overtime must be compensated with an extra 25% for the first eight overtime hours per week and 50% for every additional hour. Alternatively, a sectoral or company agreement may substitute overtime payment by additional time off. Maximum overtime is fixed by law at 220 hours per year, but sectoral or company agreements may deteriorate from the provisions within certain limits. In any case, daily working time must not exceed 12 hours per day (or night), 46 hours over a period of 12 consecutive weeks, and 48 hours per week.

Part-time work

Part-time work is defined as working time below 35 hours per week, the applicable working time determined by a collective agreement or the habitual working time of the company. The proportion of employees working part-time has been increasing slowly but steadily over the past 30 years. In 2013, Eurostat figures show that 18.4% of the French workforce worked part-time. National data suggest that the increase in part-time work is stronger among men than women, although the latter are still significantly more likely to work reduced hours. In 1982, female employees were almost nine times more likely to work part time. By 2013, the ratio had halved to roughly 1:4.5.

Working time flexibility

Flexible working time arrangements usually have to be approved by the works council or, if not present, the staff delegate and the labour inspectorate must be informed. If the company has neither a works council nor a staff delegate, the labour inspectorate has to approve the flexible working time arrangement.

Proportion of establishments reporting that some employees may adapt the start and end of their working day to their personal needs

Establishment size

None or fewer than 20% in the establishment

Between 20-80% in the establishment

More than 80% in the establishment

















Source: European Company Survey 2013

Health and well-being

Psychosocial risks

Employers are legally obliged (Article L. 4121-1 of the Labour Code) to evaluate psychosocial risks and to take the necessary measures to ensure the protection and security of the employees’ mental and physical health. For this purpose, employers must provide measures to tackle the sources of the risks and to adapt working conditions accordingly. The latter might include the conception of workplaces, adaptation of methods of work and production in order to, for instance, avoid monotonous work and work at a predetermined work-rate, technical support, and other measures. Moreover, employers are required to plan risk prevention holistically, taking into account technical aspects, work organisation, employment and social relations, in particular with regards to moral and sexual harassment.

In addition, there are two national cross-sectoral agreements that have dealt with psychosocial risks, namely the 2008 agreement on stress at work and the 2010 agreement on harassment and violence at work.

Selected working conditions indicators affecting psychosocial risks





Work intensity: Working to tight deadlines at least a quarter of the time




Long working hours: Working more than 10 hours once or more per month




Discrimination: having been subjected to discrimination at work over the past 12 months

No data



Source: Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey

More detailed figures are available from Eurofound’s European Working conditions survey

Health and safety at work

There has been a significant drop in work-related accidents between 2008 and 2009, which might be an effect of the crisis that showed its strongest impact on industry employment, which is more likely to produce accidents.

Accidents at work, with four days’ absence or more – working days lost







All accidents






Percentage change on previous year






Per 1,000 employees






Source: Eurostat, [hsw_mi01] and [lfsa_eegaed]

Skills, learning and employability

National system for ensuring skills and employability

All employers must participate in the funding of ensuring skills and employability through the provision of training to their employees. Depending on the size of the company, employers must, unless specified differently by a sectoral collective agreement, pay between 0.55 and 1.60% of the payroll to a Certified Joint Collecting Body (OPCA). OPCAs are typically set up by sector; there are currently 21 sectoral OPCAs in place. OPCAs are bipartite organisations jointly governed by trade unions and employers’ associations.

The Certified Joint Collecting Body provides guidance, and plans, implements and funds training. Many companies delegate their training activities to the local sectoral OPCA. The institution typically has a list of approved training providers that offer courses on a large range of issues.


In line with the recent reform of vocational training, from 1 January 2015 all employees will have an individual training account valid from when they first join the labour market to when they retire. An employee who changes jobs or alternates between work and unemployment will retain his or her right to training. This arrangement will replace the Individual Right to Training, which was created in 2003 and was rarely used.

The individual training account will be provided as soon as its holder becomes an employee. A maximum of 150 hours can be accumulated over nine years. Every employee receives 20 hours per year worked (for a full-time post) during the first six years of employment, and 10 hours a year for the three subsequent years. The account will be accessible via an online service. Furthermore, the reform changes how employers’ contributions are calculated. Previously this was 1.6% of payroll costs in companies with 20 or more employees, and 1.05% for those with between 10 and 19 employees. This is replaced by a single, compulsory contribution of 1% of payroll costs for all businesses with more than 10 employees. The only lower rate is 0.55 % for those companies with fewer than 10 employees.

Companies with 10 or more employees can pay a reduced contribution of 0.8% if they agree to allocate 0.2% of payroll costs directly to the individual training account scheme. The contribution can also be lowered to 0.8% in enterprises that employ between 10 and 300 employees if the industry-wide agreement for their sector provides for an equivalent arrangement.

Each year, the employer has still to develop a vocational training plan and to discuss it with employees’ representatives.

Proportion of employees receiving paid time off for training, by existence of a workplace employee representation and establishment size

Establishment size

Employee representation at establishment or company exists

None or fewer than 20% in the establishment

20–80% in the establishment

More than 80% in the establishment































Source: European Company Survey 2013

Work organisation

Work organisation underpins economic and business development and has important consequences for productivity, innovation and working conditions. Eurofound research finds that some types of work organisation are associated with a better quality of work and employment. Therefore, developing or introducing different forms of work organisation are of particular interest because of the expected effect on productivity, efficiency and competitiveness of companies, as well as on workers’ working conditions. Ongoing research by Eurofound, based on EurWORK, the European Working Conditions Survey  and the European Company Survey , monitors developments in work organisation,

For France, the European Company Survey 2013 shows that between 2010 and 2013 30% of establishments with 10 or more employees reported changes in the use of technology, 30% introduced changes in ways to coordinate and allocate the work to workers and 18% saw changes in their working time arrangements.

The table below illustrates some important changes in work organisation and its impact on employees’ perception of their workplace and their individual situation. Data are based on the Working Conditions Survey 2013 (‘Enquête Conditions de travail 2013’) conducted every seven years. This survey is based on interviews of 27,000 workers from the private and public sectors conducted from October 2012 to February 2013, and of 7,000 employers conducted from November 2012 to August 2013.

Changes in work organisation and impact on employees 2013 (%)

  Total  Private sector Public sector

Changes in the tasks/job description




Changes in the technics employed




Restructuring or delocalisation of the workplace




Changes in work organisation at the workplace




Mass redundancies




Takeover or changes in the senior management team




Changes are perceived as negative




Perception of unpredictable or poorly prepared changes




Fear to lose employment in the upcoming year




Source: Dares-DGAFP- Drees-Insee, enquête Conditions de travail 2013.

Equality and non-discrimination at work

The general prohibition of discrimination at work is contained in the preamble to the 1946 Constitution, which states ‘no person may be prejudiced, in their work or employment, on the grounds of their origins, opinions or beliefs’. The current legislation (Labour Code, art. L1131-1) stipulates that no-one may be discriminated against on the basis of origin; sex; morality; sexual orientation; age (unless the differential treatment is justified by a legitimate objective, such as when it is a specific requirement of the job); family status; genetic characteristics; actual or supposed adherence or non-observance of any ethnic origin, nationality or race; political opinions; trade union membership or similar activity; religious beliefs; physical appearance; surname; health or disability.

This applies to access to a recruitment process, internship or training course. No employee may be sanctioned, dismissed or subjected to discriminatory measures. All types of discrimination are prohibited, whether direct or indirect, and particularly in matters of pay, training, appointment, qualification, rank, promotion, variation or renewal of contract. No employee may be sanctioned, dismissed or subjected to any discriminatory measure on the grounds that he or she is lawfully exercising his or her right to strike.

Equal pay and gender pay gap

Equality between men and women has become a subject of mandatory bargaining for companies with at least 50 employees, an obligation now accompanied by a financial penalty of up to 1% of the total payroll amount if not complied with. Equal pay for men and women is found to be the most often addressed issue in the agreement’s provisions on equality (Garner & Recoules 2014). These are intended both to guarantee that women’s wages are comparable to those of men and also to bridge the gaps. Important agreements were reached in large companies.

The gender pay gap in France was slightly below the EU28 average in 2012 (15.4% and 16.5%, respectively). The gap was at the 2012 level just before the crisis (2006), spiked in 2007 (17.3%) and has constantly decreased ever since.

Quota regulations

In 2010, the Government passed legislation to commit companies traded on the stock exchange to increase the share of women on their supervisory boards to 40% by 2016.

Since 2013, employers have been able to apply for a two to three-month exemption from employers’ contributions to unemployment insurance if they hire young people under the age of 26 on a permanent contract.

In 2005, French Government introduced rules on the compulsory employment of disabled workers, the Obligation d’emploi de travailleurs handicapés (OETH). Companies with at least 20 staff must have 6% of full-time equivalent workers on their payroll registered as disabled.


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