Initial appraisal of collective agreements on employment of older workers

The employment rate in France for people aged 55 to 64 years was only 38.9% in 2009 compared with the EU target of 50% for this age group by the end of 2010. New legislation requires all companies employing more than 50 people to be covered by a collective agreement signed by the social partners to boost the employment of older workers, or face a fine. Larger companies (more than 300 employees) have the option of producing an action plan. The 79 industry-wide agreements have a number of common themes.

Measures to boost employment of older workers

The European Union has set a target for Member States to achieve an employment rate of 50% for people aged 55–64 years by the end of 2010. In 2009, France had an employment rate of only 38.9% for this age group according to Eurostat. Consequently, boosting the employment rate of older workers has been a priority for the French government. The government aims to stimulate bargaining over the issue of the employment of older workers around concrete commitments and to encourage employers to adopt an active age management system. To achieve this, the government introduced legislative measures in 2008.

According to Article 87 of the Act of 17 December 2008 (in French) on the financing of social security for 2009 (completed by an enforcement Decree of 20 May 2009 (in French)), companies with 300 or more employees had to be covered by a collective agreement signed by the social partners or, failing that (if no agreement could be reached), by an action plan presented by the employer. Those companies that failed to do this by 1 January 2010 had to pay a penalty of 1% of the total costs of their payroll on that date. Companies with 50–300 employees must be covered by an industry-wide agreement. In the absence of an agreement, they must conclude their own collective agreement or, failing that, develop an action plan. Thus the government has granted the freedom to negotiate but has ‘stimulated’ action by the use of financial penalties.

Initial conclusions about the effectiveness of this collective bargaining can be made since several reports issued by the Ministry of Labour (Direction générale du travail, DGT) and the Ministry for Employment and Vocational Training (Direction générale à l’emploi et à la formation professionnelle, DGEFP) have made a first assessment of industry-wide and company agreements.

Objectives and areas of action adopted by agreements

DGEFP has published a list of 79 industry-wide agreements (in French, 208Kb PDF) approved by DGT as of 11 May 2010 (DGEFP report (in French, 28.75Kb PDF)). A total of 75 professional sectors have set an overall objective of maintaining the employment rate of older workers – possibly with an increase in the average age of retirement (currently 55 years). Ten branches of activity have set as their objective the recruitment of workers aged 50 and above. DGEFP has categorised the various objectives as:

  • development of skills (64 agreements);
  • transmission of knowledge and skills (64 agreements);
  • anticipation of career development (63 agreements);
  • improvement of working conditions and prevention of arduous work (44 agreements);
  • transition between work and retirement (43 agreements);
  • recruitment of older workers (19 agreements).

Focus of workplace agreements and action plans

DGT has highlighted the diversity of the various actions and targets contained within collective agreements (DGT report (in French, 62.8Kb PDF); see also the compendium of good practice (in French, 1.02Mb PDF)). From this diversity it is possible to identify six themes.

  • Recruitment and job retention: for example, the ArcelorMittal agreement seeks to ensure that at least 2% of workers are aged 50 years and over and the GDF Suez agreement sets a target for an employment rate of older workers of 12% of the total workforce by 2012.
  • Careers: for example, the Areva agreement includes an advisor to guide employees to improve their career mobility.
  • Working conditions and arduous work: the PSA agreement (in French) provides for a strengthening of medical monitoring.
  • Skills and qualifications: for example, the SNPE agreement allows for better access to training.
  • End of career: for example, the ArcelorMittal agreement provides for working 80% of full-time hours but receiving 90% of full-time wages and the Renault Retail Group agreement contains a promise to help find work elsewhere in the group near the area where those close to retirement want to live when they stop working.
  • Transmission of knowledge from older to younger workers.

Commentary

It is obviously too soon to carry out a full appraisal and the expected impact of the new legislative measures will be measured in the medium and long term. However, it is possible to observe that faced with a choice between hiring new workers or maintaining the employment of those already in the workforce, companies preferred to keep existing staff. In their defence, these new obligations have focused the minds of the social partners and provoked some action.

Hélène Tissandier, HERA

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