France: Temporary agency work and collective bargaining in the EU

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 18 December 2008


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The temporary agency work situation in France is simultaneously characterised by a highly structured legal framework and a large number of contracts being signed and dialogue taking place. This makes for relatively strong protection for workers and legitimises the work of temporary work agencies.The regulatory framework has been largely transformed since 2005 and is still undergoing changes: for user enterprises, the advent of new permitted reasons for using agency workers, for temporary work agencies the authorisation of new lines of business, namely recruitment (as a secondary activity nevertheless) and working as umbrella companies.France is one of the world’s leading TAW markets. Despite recent developments, TAW is still mainly of an industrial nature, requires low skill levels and targets a young male workforce.

Section 1. Definitions

1) In your country, is there a statutory definition of:

a) temporary agency work?

Temporary agency work is a three-way relationship between the temporary work agency, the agency worker on an assignment and the user enterprise.

Temporary work is a highly regulated activity in France, and should not be confused with the lucrative hiring-out of labour and labour-only subcontracting, which as a rule are forbidden by the law. Neither should it be confused with fixed-term contracts, which are subject to another status, and which are also frequently called temporary work.

Recourse to temporary work is based on a temporary work agency temporarily providing an agency worker to carry out an assignment for a user enterprise.

Article L. 124-1 of the Labour Code (Code du Travail) states: ‘any individual or entity whose exclusive line of business is to temporarily provide users with employees with an appropriate skills level, which it hires and remunerates, is a temporary agency.’

Each assignment is covered by:

b) agency worker?

An agency worker is an employee of the temporary work agency for the duration of an assignment.

c) user enterprise?

The user enterprise is the user customer or client with which the temporary work agency has concluded a provision of labour contract.

2) Is there a collectively agreed definition of:

a) temporary agency work?

Temporary provision of labour to a user customer or client.

b) agency worker?

The employee of a temporary agency.

c) user enterprise?

The customer or client of a temporary agency.

3) In your country, would you describe TAW as a sector in its own right?

In France there is a TAW sector, made up of so called ‘temporary work’ companies (see above). This sector has its own social institutions, its own employers’ organisation (PRISME) and the five employees’ trade unions have sector-specific sections (see below): 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).

Section 2. Regulatory framework

1) Have there been any changes in the law concerning TAW since 2004?

a) Yes

The social cohesion law (on 18 January 2005) introduced two new instances in which TAW can be used. These instances are no longer linked to the economic situation of the user (see following question) but to the personal situation of the prospective temporary agency worker, in order to provide the person in question with additional vocational training or to facilitate the recruitment of people who are encountering professional or social difficulties.

The same law introduced the option of temporary work agencies offering their clientele recruitment and job placement services as a secondary line of business (FR0511101N).

2) How is TAW regulated in your country?

a) Is there a legal framework specifically for TAW; and/or is it covered by general labour law (including case law/ jurisprudence)?

Yes, included in the Labour Code (Code du Travail). See above.

b) What is the role, if any, of collective labour agreements and self-regulation?

At TAW sector level, a large number of agreements have been concluded and ongoing dialogue about a range of new issues and projects is taking place, with this sometimes happening within temporary work agencies (in the case of companies with trade union representatives).

  • The first temporary agency work statute (1972) largely reproduced a previous Manpower agreement.
  • Sector-wide agreements supplement the legislative framework in terms of social security and for the setting-up and management of sector institutions: mainly the Temporary Work Training Insurance Fund (Fonds d’Action Sociale du Travail Temporaire, FAF-TT), the Professional Fund for Employment of Temporary Work FPE-TT (Fonds Professionnel pour l’Emploi du Travail Temporaire, FPE-TT) and the Temporary Work Social Action Fund (Fonds d’Action Sociale du Travail Temporaire, FAS-TT)), welfare and pension schemes (setting-up of a one-stop shop: Réunica-Bayard).
  • Another example is the September 2005 sector-wide agreement setting out the precise framework for the implementation of two new scenarios in which temporary agency work can be used, as created by the 18th January 2005 social cohesion law.
  • Another current example: the social partners concluded a national inter-trade agreement on 11 January 2008 on the reform of the labour market (FR0802049I), with one of the provisions giving temporary agencies the option of regulating and working as umbrella companies.

A law is currently being discussed in Parliament.

3) What is regulated in these provisions? In particular, does it cover:

a) use of agency work (e.g. length of assignment, sectoral bans, permitted reasons of use, number of agency workers per company, other)

The law limits assignment length (currently to 18 months as a rule, including any renewals of the contract).

The law contains a list of permitted reasons for a user enterprise:

  • Replacing an absent employee.
  • A temporary increase in activity.
  • Inherently temporary posts.

The list of permitted reasons of use was modified by the January 2005 law (FR0511101N).

The law forbids the use of temporary agency workers to replace employees who are on strike, for dangerous jobs or following redundancies.

There are no sectoral bans and no limit on the number of temporary agency workers per company.

b) the form of the contract (e.g.project, fixed-term, special contract, open ended, etc.)

The law fixes the form of the temporary work contract, specifically sets out the permitted reasons of use and specific bans, and sets a minimum level of social security cover (the same for all employees) which supplements the collective agreements. As for any employment contract, it sets out the rights and obligations of the interested parties, and in particular distributes the rights and obligations of employers between the legal employer, the temporary work agency and the user enterprise.

The temporary work contract, known as an assignment contract, is signed by the agency worker and the temporary work agency, who is also the legal employer. The assignment contract must be in writing and contain the compulsory information; the reasons why the user enterprise is using agency workers, assignment length, a precise job description and a precise description of the temporary agency worker’s professional skills level, and remuneration and its various components (bonuses and other salary benefits). The duration of the contract is that of the assignment.

c) social security and social benefits

Agency workers are covered by the general social security scheme (health insurance, invalidity, maternity, accidents at work, unemployment, pensions). A sector-wide agreement supplements the general scheme for employees.

d) conditions to open a TAW agency (e.g. license or authorisation schemes, supervision by public authorities, financial requirements, or others - please specify)

The French TAW agency must register with the Ministry of Labour and Employment, have a financial guarantee and send regular records of its all activities to the authorities.

e) business activities/services delivered by TW agencies (e.g. prohibition to provide other services than TAW)?

As a rule, TAW should be the sole activity of TW agencies. However, the January 2005 law authorised job placement as a secondary line of business. The bill currently under debate puts forward the proposal that TW agencies should be allowed to work as umbrella companies. (See above).

f) third-national companies or temporary agency workers (e.g. activities of foreign agencies)?

There are no restrictions.

The law stipulates that a TW agency based outside of France can temporarily assign employees to a user enterprise based or working in France, on the condition that it respects rules governing temporary agency work in France.

4) Do any regulations (by law and/or collective bargaining in the TAW sector) specify equal treatment rights for agency workers with permanent workers in the user enterprise concerning:

Equal treatment of agency workers and permanent workers in a user enterprise holding the same posts is a general principle which is formally confirmed by the law, and covers all the employee’s individual and collective rights.

a) pay

The law includes the principle of agency workers receiving the same pay as permanent employees and where required makes provision for end-of-assignment compensation to be paid in order to compensate for the inherent instability of the agency worker’s situation.

The law also applies an exceptional compensation scheme for paid leave with respect to common law which is payable whatever the assignment length.

b) training

Agency workers are covered by a specific vocational training policy, governed by national collective agreements regulating the activities of the FAT-TT and the FPE-TT (the first agreement dates back to 1983). It is therefore acknowledged that vocational training is a decisive factor in agency workers obtaining permanent posts.

In particular, the compulsory continuous vocational training contribution required from all standard companies is 2.15% of the gross payroll for TW agencies. This contribution mainly funds the work of FAF-TT and FPE-TT.

Moreover, the law also requires employers to organise enhanced safety training for temporary workers (both those on fixed-term and temporary contracts) if these workers are filling posts presenting specific risks.

c) other terms or conditions of employment?

The principle of equality applies to all aspects of the employment relationship.

  • Regarding working conditions, agency workers are subject to all the measures applicable to the workplaces where they work.
  • Regarding the rights of expression and representation, see below.
  • As for training, a large number of collective sector-wide agreements provide social protection for agency workers in addition to the general scheme. Please see above.

5) Do TAW workers have the right to information, consultation and representation?

Agency workers’ rights of representation and trade union expression mainly fall within the remit of the TW agency. Agency workers benefit from the same rights as permanent employees. Within the user enterprise, agency workers benefit from the standard rights of expression as regards their working conditions. If they do not take part in elections for employee representatives, their numbers are taken into account (in proportion with the hours worked in the company) when calculating the workforce thresholds used to decide the employee representation procedures in the user company.

6) Is there a control/enforcement mechanism regarding any TAW regulation?

If yes,

a) is there a special labour inspectorate or a bi-partite body governing TAW?

No, TAW falls within the remit of the work carried out by the French Labour Inspectorate.

b) are there any sanctions/penalties for not respecting the regulations (whether stemming from law and/or collective agreements)?

Yes, failure to adhere to the regulations can lead to sanctions which vary depending on the offence in question. In particular, the law stipulates that the assignment contract can be ‘switched’ to a permanent contract with the user enterprise in the event of non-permitted use of an agency worker or non-permitted employment of a temporary worker at the end of the assignment. The law also makes provision for criminal sanctions (in the form of fines or imprisonment) for breaches of the legislation in force (providing services other than TAW, lack of a written contract, not respecting equal pay, not adhering to permitted reasons for using temporary workers etc.).

7) Are there any procedures governing use of TAW and strike breaking?

In particular, can workers on strike be replaced by agency workers?

This is one of the scenarios prohibited by the law.

Section 3. Social dialogue and collective bargaining

1) Is there any employers’ association(s) for TAW firms in your country?

The former Union of Temporary Work Agencies (Syndicat des Entreprises de Travail Temporaire) which represented temporary work agencies particularly during collective sector-wide negotiations became PRISME (Professionnels de l’intérim, services et métiers de l’emploi – Temporary Agency Work, Services and Employment Industry Professionals) in order to respond to employment market changes brought about by the January 2005 law (please see above). PRISME is a member of the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF), the main French employers’ organisation.

According to PRISME, over 600 temporary work agencies representing 90% of the industry’s turnover belong to it. ‘The network of 6,450 temporary work agencies generated an overall turnover of €20.4 billion in 2006’ (PRISME, 2006 annual report).

2) Is there any union(s) specifically for agency workers?

If no, have any unions or confederations targeted the recruitment of agency workers? launched any campaigns around agency workers’ rights?

The French trade unions do not agree on the organizational procedures for unionizing agency workers. The five nationally representative trade unions have set up autonomous sector-wide federations.

Campaigns on the issue of agency workers’ rights are quite rare because there is a high level of legal protection, which is officially equivalent to the protection offered to permanent employees. The practical issue is first and foremost how to implement these rights for agency workers who have an inherently unstable existence and are therefore difficult to organise and mobilise, particularly in the sub-sector of micro temporary work agencies which rarely belong to the Movement of French Enterprises (Mouvement des entreprises de France, MEDEF), with an almost non-existent trade union presence (please see below for more information about the structure of the TAW sector). One of the main French trade unions, the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT), is launching a campaign in May defending the ‘ten fundamental rights of the unemployed’ targeting the unemployed and those in unstable employment.

3) Collective bargaining levels

Is TAW governed by collective bargaining at:

a) intersectoral/ national level?b) the sectoral level for TAW?c) company (ie. temporary agency firm) level?

There is significant overlap between legislative type regulations and agreement type regulations (Please see above). Agreements tend to be concluded at both national / inter-trade and national / sectoral or company level. The general principle being:

a) the law sets the general rules for temporary agency work

b) that agreements provide specific applications of labour law rules or principles of French social protection for TAW, taking into account the specific context of temporary agency work and agency workers (See above).

4) Collective bargaining outcomes

Please provide examples and details of any recent/ significant collective agreements governing TAW at the levels referred to in question 3.

Some examples of collective agreements:

  • 1988 : Agreement on the representation of temporary work agency personnel (accord sur la representation du personnel des ETT).
  • 1991: Agreement on the designation of the temporary work supplementary pension fund (accord sur la désignation de la caisse de retraite complémentaire du travail temporaire -IREPS).
  • 1992: Agreement on the creation of the temporary work Fonds d'action sociale (Social Action Fund)
  • 2002: Agreement on health and safety in temporary work.
  • 2004: Agreement on vocational training (modified in 2006).
  • 2007: Agreement on diversity and non-discrimination in temporary work.

5) Are there any examples of sector- or company-level collective agreements in other sectors that restrict, permit or otherwise regulate the use of TAW within their domain?

Not to my knowledge. However, ‘commitments’ which are a sort of code of conduct drawn up by some big companies that use large numbers of agency workers, do exist. In September 2003, PSA Peugeot Citroën signed a charter on conditions of employment for agency workers with seven temporary work agencies – Adecco, Adia, Alliance, Crit intérim, Manpower, Synergie and Védiorbis. This charter brought together a set of joint commitments, going beyond the legal and regulatory obligations (length of shorter assignments).

6) Please provide any data concerning:

a) trade union density for agency workers

2007-2004: 0,9 %

1996-2000: 0,6%

Source : the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques, INSEE); Studies on Household Living Conditions (Enquêtes Permanentes sur les Conditions de Vie des Ménages).

b) the coverage of collective bargaining within the sector.

Sectoral collective agreements are signed by PRISME on behalf of employers and therefore only bind companies that are members of PRISME. A large number of sectoral agreements have benefited from the procedure known as ‘extension’ and are therefore applicable to all companies. However, the fact remains that the entire sub-sector of micro temporary work agencies does not in any way benefit from the social protection offered by the PRISME member companies. To my knowledge, there are no studies that evaluate the coverage of collective bargaining.

Section 4. Employment and working conditions of TA workers

1) Please provide the most recent data (averages) on TAW employment

a) longevity of TAW employment, i.e. how long workers remain employed

  • - in the sector?
  • - with a particular agency?

The average accumulated working hours in temporary employment and for the year were evaluated at 7.5 months in 2005-2006 (source: BVA and FPE-TT, Regard des intérimaires sur l’intérim, September 2006)

According to the same source, this accumulated amount over the course of a year was carried out with 2.7 temporary work agencies.

b) duration of TAW placements, i.e. the length of assignment in a user company.

Average length of assignments (source: the Ministry of Employment's Office for Research and Statistics (Direction de l'animation de la recherche, des études et des statistiques du Ministère de l'Emploi, DARES) & the National Union for Employment in Industry and Commerce (Union nationale interprofessionnelle pour l’emploi dans l’industrie et le commerce, UNEDIC), using UNEDIC files of monthly declarations made by temporary work agencies) second quarter of 2008 (in weeks).

Overall average 1.9

Industry total 2.3

Agricultural and food industries 1.3

Consumer goods industries 2.0

Automotive industry 3.7

Capital goods industry 3.7

Intermediate goods industries 2.4

Energy 6.1

Construction 2.9

Tertiary total 1.4

Commerce 1,5

Transport 1.4

Financial sector 4.2

Property 2,1

Business services 1.5

Personal services 0.7

Education 0.7

Civil service 2.0

L’EMPLOI INTÉRIMAIRE AU DEUXIÈME TRIMESTRE 2007, DARES Première, novembre 2007, n° 45.2

2) Please provide any evidence from official, academic and social partner sources concerning:

a) the reasons for user companies’ usage of TAW, including any differences by sector, occupation, firm size etc.

All the studies highlight the close links between the user enterprise's need for flexibility and temporary agency work. As there are other employment contracts in existence in France capable of offering the same degree of flexibility, choices made by users vary depending on the sector in question and standard practice (part-time working in commerce, for example, seasonal contracts in agriculture and the food industry, specific contracts in the hotel / restaurant industry, which are known as ‘contrats d’extra’ etc.) Even if the development of temporary agency work is undoubtedly threatening these practices, they are tending to hold firm. The fact remains that temporary agency work has an advantage over other competing practices: its recruitment expertise which should enable it to:

  • provide quality personnel and
  • more easily find personnel for industries that are suffering from a ‘shortage’.

b) reasons for workers participation in the sector and levels of satisfaction, including any differences by age, sex, education etc.

It cannot be disputed that temporary agency work has become a way out of unemployment and for young people in particular a way of accessing employment (temporary agency work has become an almost compulsory stage for them). In this sense, the link between temporary agency work and employment / unemployment is very strong.

However, at the same time, a significant percentage of agency workers take advantage of the system in France: bonuses and freedom offered, etc. They are undoubtedly workers with higher skills levels and with expertise that is harder to find in the labour market.

3) In practice, which rules and procedures may apply to temporary-agency workers in contrast to other workers in the user company?

The main issue is not the lack of application of the principle of equality between agency workers and permanent employees in the user company. Despite recent developments (particularly the increased skills level of workers), the use of temporary agency work remains very concentrated in certain types of jobs and companies. The issue therefore is that of pay and working conditions, and even the social protection of permanent employees in posts equivalent to those offered to agency workers, compared with posts which agency workers do not tend to fill. Equality relies on ‘all things being equa’ but things are never ‘equal’.

Section 5. The extent and composition of TAW.

1) For 2004 and 2007, please state

a) the number of agency workers

2004 (full year): 569,300 equivalent full-time

2006 (full year): 602,800 equivalent full-time

2007 (3rd quarter): 659,800 equivalent full-time

Source: the Ministry of Employment's Office for Research and Statistics (Direction de l'animation de la recherche, des études et des statistiques du Ministère de l'Emploi, DARES) & the National Union for Employment in Industry and Commerce (Union nationale interprofessionnelle pour l’emploi dans l’industrie et le commerce, UNEDIC)

b) total reventues of the TAW sector

2004: €18.4 billion

2006: €20.4 billion

2007: no data available.

Source: PRISME, 2006 economic and social report.

Source: 2) What proportion of the TAW workforce is currently

a) male/ female?

Male 72,41% (2006)

Female 27,59% (2006)

Unit: full-time equivalent

Source: the Ministry of Employment's Office for Research and Statistics (Direction de l'animation de la recherche, des études et des statistiques du Ministère de l'Emploi, DARES) & the National Union for Employment in Industry and Commerce (Union nationale interprofessionnelle pour l’emploi dans l’industrie et le commerce, UNEDIC), UNEDIC files of monthly declarations made by temporary work agencies – 2006

b) full/part time?

In 2005, out of 548,000 agency workers:

419,000 stated that they were full-time

8,000 stated that they worked part-time (under 15 hours)

28,000 stated that they worked part-time (over 15 hours)

(93,000 people did not answer the question).

Source: the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques, INSEE), Employment Survey (enquête sur l’emploi) – 2005. To our knowledge, information for the previous years is no longer available.

c) young (<c. 25) or older (>c. 50) workers?

Under 25: 31.4%

50 and over: 7.1%

Source: the Ministry of Employment's Office for Research and Statistics (Direction de l'animation de la recherche, des études et des statistiques du Ministère de l'Emploi, DARES) & the National Union for Employment in Industry and Commerce (Union nationale interprofessionnelle pour l’emploi dans l’industrie et le commerce, UNEDIC), (using UNEDIC files of monthly declarations made by temporary work agencies) - 2006

3) Has there been any changes to the TAW sector in terms of

a) concentration, i.e. proportion of employees or turnover accounted for by the largest firms?

The sector has become highly concentrated over the past decade. In 1997, the ten leading companies generated 71% of the industry’s turnover, and in 2004 the four major companies (Adecco, Manpower, Védior-Bis and ADIA) generated the same proportion (70.1%), with the two giants, Adecco and Manpower accounting for close to 46% of the turnover (source: PRISME).

b) internationalisation, i.e. number/significance of multinational TAW firms?

The structure of the sector remained stable in 2007.

4) What is your evaluation of the availability and quality of statistical data concerning TAW in your country?

The official statistics system mainly provides two sources of data which naturally hold sway. The DARES UNEDIC source (use of UNEDIC files of monthly declarations made by temporary work agencies) provides information about how temporary agency work is used. The INSEE Enquête sur l’emploi (Employment Survey) collects individual data which can be used to describe the population of agency workers. This source has considerably changed its methodology since 2005 and the availability of detailed and reliable data for a small population is currently compromised.

Commentary by the NC

Even if PRISME is an important partner in the ongoing negotiations on the reform of the labour market (particularly for issues relating to employment contracts) and even if the January 2005 reform of temporary agency work undoubtedly greatly changed the situation by opening up new lines of business to temporary work agencies, temporary agency work is not at the heart of current debates on employment. The issues involved in these debates and the subsequent reforms are of a much wider nature.

The Services Directive naturally aroused a lot of passion in France, especially as the discussion of this directive came at the same time as the referendum debate on the draft European Constitution. But outside of the strictly political debate, the social partners and in particular employers have perhaps tackled the issue as a form of possible competition from foreign temporary work agencies (competition that was deemed to be somewhat unfair) rather than as an employment question in the strict sense of the term. There was no apparent tension between the social partners.

François Michon, Institute for Economic and Social Research (IRES)

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