Agreement to improve working life at La Poste

The management of the French postal group La Poste and four trade union organisations have signed a framework agreement on the quality of working life. The deal, signed on 22 January 2013, builds on the report drawn up in September 2012 after ‘large scale dialogue’ by experts and social partners. The working party looking into the issue was set up after two staff suicides were blamed on an oppressive work culture at the company. Two unions, however, have refused to sign the deal.

Background

The suicides of two employees at French postal group La Poste were widely reported in the national media at the beginning of 2012. The suicides were blamed on an ‘oppressive’ work culture at the company.

The management of La Poste initiated social dialogue on the question of well-being at work. Trade unions at the same time were demanding the suspension of a restructuring process at the company.

On 17 April 2012, the management set up a commission for ‘large-scale dialogue’, made up of experts and trade unions as well as management representatives. It was chaired by Jean Kaspar, a consultant and former secretary general of the French Democratic Federation of Labour (CFDT).

After six months of talks, the commission presented its diagnosis and recommendations in a report, Rapport de la Commission du Grand Dialogue de La Poste (2.53Mb PDF), published in September 2012. The company issued a press release (in French) on 12 September 2012 to explain its findings and recommendations.

This document attracted widespread media attention because it advocated the recruitment of 4,500 to 5,000 people at La Poste over two years to alleviate the overload on staff. It also made proposals for improvements in eight areas which it said should be considered by social partners;

  • social dialogue and regulation;
  • management;
  • working organisation;
  • health and safety;
  • social model;
  • recruitment of workers;
  • the human resources function;
  • forward-looking employment and skills management.

The agreement

The new framework agreement on the quality of working life was signed between four unions and management at La Poste on 22 January 2013.

The agreement, Accord-cadre sur la qualité de vie au travail à La Poste (1.65 Mb PDF), was signed on behalf of all La Poste’s employees. The unions involved were: the CFDT; the General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (CGT-FO); the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (CFTC); the combined French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (CFE-CGC); and the National Federation of Independent Unions (UNSA). Between them, these four unions took 48% of the votes at the most recent workplace elections in October 2011.

The deal comprises both measures that will be effective immediately, and commitments about when future negotiations will take place. A press release (in French) was issued by the La Poste Group on 22 January 2013 setting out the scope of the agreement. Apart from its content, what is interesting about this agreement is the way in which it was reached.

Overhaul of social policy

Between 2002 and 2011, La Poste saw a 24% reduction in its labour force, from 320,000 employees to 244,000, according to Jean Kaspar, quoted in an interview in online labour relations journal Metis on 15 October 2012.

Despite the falling volume of mail flow, turnover grew by almost the same percentage as the labour force reduction. A 23.2% rise in turnover came from increased parcel flows and banking activities. This accelerated change in activity intensified pressure on the workforce. In view of this, the ‘Kaspar report’ calls for a revision of social dialogue. More broadly, it also calls for a review of the social model of a company which was considered to be too inward-looking. The report supports more participatory work organisation, and encourages new career paths offering, in particular, the opportunity for staff to train in other professions and help with the evolution of the group.

Immediate measures

In the interests of a better work-life balance, the report proposes that a new ‘five in every seven days’ work pattern should be trialled to allow personnel to benefit from two rest days each week. The agreement has introduced a part-time arrangement for older workers whose tasks involve risk factors arising from arduous working conditions.

The document defines the rules of social dialogue which need to be respected when implementing projects. Proposed changes with an impact on how services are organised and operated are to be systematically presented to the trade unions before they are introduced.

The consultations and social negotiations conducted throughout the entire duration of the project are to include the trade unions’ alternative proposals. In addition, the agreement has created a warning system, intended to ensure that these rules of social dialogue are respected when a project is being implemented. A warning – which suspends the relevant project while it is considered – can be brought at either local or national level, but a warning cannot be issued more than twice – once locally and once nationwide – by the same union about the same project.

Supplementary negotiations

The agreement provides for negotiations in several areas, notably on how work is organised and on improving working conditions, work-life balance, the content and meaning of work, and the prevention and consideration of arduous working conditions. Talks on well-being at the workplace are intended to introduce criteria linking employee welfare to management objectives. Social dialogue will be the subject of a separate negotiation which will define its players and forums.

Reaction of the social partners

From the management viewpoint, this agreement ‘expresses the quality of the discussions and proposals put forward’ by the two parties, and ‘bears witness to the quality of social dialogue in the company’.

However, the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), which won 22.9% of votes in the workplace elections, refused to sign the agreement. It said in a press release (in French, 99Kb PDF) that ‘the commitments of La Poste remain insufficient in view of the company’s needs’.

One other major union federation did not sign the agreement. The independent union SUD, which won 22.25% of votes in the workplace elections said in a press release (in French) that it was an agreement ‘devoid of substance’ which was ‘primarily a licence to reorganise’.

In an information sheet (in French, 588Kb PDF) CFDT underlined the positive aspects of the agreement and condemned the attitude of the unions that did not sign. FO, in an article (in French), particularly drew attention to the agreement’s commitments to recruitment and part-time working for older employees.

Commentary

Faced with a crisis, the La Poste Group has reacted swiftly to the problems – unlike the France Télécom group when it found itself in a similar situation (FR1207021I).

La Poste placed its faith in social dialogue and expertise from outside the group. This choice, however, did upset some senior executives and members of the management, and even some trade union organisations.

The measures have not removed the risk of suicide – a news article reported on a further case in November 2012. However, the company has undoubtedly alleviated the situation, and prevented a wave of suicides similar to the one seen at France Télécom. Nevertheless, lasting success will only be achieved if it is based on a change in culture within both management and the non-signatory trade unions.

The non-signatory unions still have the power to oppose the agreement and stop its implementation. While SUD has announced its opposition, CGT has only refused to sign and has not said it will oppose the agreement.

Frédéric TURLAN, IR Share

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