MEDEF announces pull-out from National Association of Social Security Funds

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In November 2000, France's MEDEF employers' confederation announced that it was pulling out of the administrative board of the National Association of Social Security Funds (UCANSS), which it chairs. UCANSS manages the 176,000 staff of the various social security funds. The trade unions have condemned MEDEF's action.

On 14 November 2000, following a decision by its executive council, the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF) announced that it was giving up both the presidency and its seats on the administrative board of the National Association of Social Security Funds (Union des caisses nationales de sécurité sociale, UCANSS). According to MEDEF's vice-president, Denis Kessler, this decision is "final", and will take effect in late December 2000. UCANSS manages the 176,000 staff of the various social security funds, and MEDEF - which chairs the UCANSS board - has recently been in conflict with all the trade unions representing these employees over the introduction of the 35-hour working week in in the sector.

Of the other employers' associations, the General Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Confédération générale des petites et moyennes entreprises, CGPME) followed MEDEF's lead, whereas the Craftwork Employers' Association (Union professionnelle des artisans, UPA) preferred to continue to participate in the UCANSS board.

Negotiations on the introduction of the 35-hour working week in the social security sector, which began in September 1998, have proved to be a major challenge for MEDEF. Dominique Georgeon, MEDEF's representative on the UCANSS board, resigned in March 1999 following severe criticism from MEDEF for having drawn up a draft agreement on the issue with the CGT-FO union. Negotiations have been deadlocked since 27 October 2000, when MEDEF announced its resolve to offset the move to the 35-hour week by challenging seniority-related bonuses and benefits.

The MEDEF and CGPME withdrawal from the UCANSS board is likely to bring the association to a standstill. The CFE-CGC union is demanding that the Ministry for Employment and Solidarity appoint an interim administrator to relaunch the negotiations. CGT is asking the same Ministry to "push ahead quickly with the implementation of the 35-hour week" in social security agencies. CGT-FO is concerned that MEDEF's announcement is aimed at challenging the national collective agreement for social security staff. CFDT is advocating in the longer term a major shake-up of UCANSS and, with regard to the 35-hour week, negotiations in the individual sectors (health insurance, old-age insurance, family allowances etc). CFTC strongly criticised the tactics of MEDEF, which instead of raising the UCANSS issue for general discussion between the social partners under the employers' current industrial relations reform project (FR0002143F), preferred to present a fait accompli to the unions.

The representative trade unions for social security staff were received at the Ministry for Employment and Solidarity on 21 November 2000. The unions were given: a pledge to retain UCANSS as the sole forum for social security collective bargaining; and a commitment to laying the necessary groundwork for the move to the 35-hour week on 1 January 2001. However, the practicalities of this change have yet to be worked out.

MEDEF's announcement of its pull-out from UCANSS comes at a time when MEDEF is asking the unions and other employers' associations to take stock of all the issues being discussed under its industrial relations reform project. In the light of the difficult negotiations over the UNEDIC unemployment insurance system (FR0010195F), observers see two possible reasons behind MEDEF's withdrawal from UCANSS: either it is an admission by MEDEF of the failure of discussions over industrial relations reform and an expression of its desire to end them; or it reflects a last-ditch attempt to influence talks by reminding the various parties about the power relationships in the various jointly-managed social protection agencies.

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