Social partners react to 1999 NAP

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In May 1999, France's National Action Plan (NAP) for employment for 1999, based on the EU Employment Guidelines, was presented to the social partners during a session of the Committee for Social Dialogue on European and International Issues. Trade unions and employers' organisations gave their reactions to both the NAP and the consultation procedure.

Since 1998, all EU Member States are obliged to draw up annual National Action Plans (NAP s) for employment (EU9805107N) based on the EU's Employment Guidelines. Member States are due to submit NAPs for 1999 during summer 1999, analysing implementation of the 1998 Plans and describing the policy adjustments made to incorporate the changes introduced by the 1999 Employment Guidelines (EU9810130F).

At a meeting of the recently-established Committee for Social Dialogue on European and International Issues (Comité du dialogue social pour les questions européennes et internationales) held at the Ministry of Employment and Solidarity on 19 May 1999 (FR9812149N), representatives of trade unions and employers' associations were informed of the content of France's 1999 NAP by Nicole Péry, secretary of state for vocational training and women's rights, and Pierre Moscovici, junior minister responsible for European affairs. The Plan was then finally adopted by the Cabinet on 2 June, just before the European Council meeting in Cologne on 3-4 June 1999.

Continuity with the 1998 Plan

As in the 1998 NAP (FR9805107F), in 1999 the French government advocates a "proactive strategy for employment". Drawing conclusions from the results of the 1998 Plan, the government considers that the commitments undertaken have been mainly fulfilled in terms of:

  • legislative steps - the law on the 35-hour working week (FR9806113F), the law to combat exclusion (FR9806116F), the law on the Budget and social security funding, and a bill on innovation;
  • funding - the anti-exclusion programme, new contracts between the state and the National Employment Agency (Agence nationale pour l'emploi, ANPE) and National Association for Adult Vocational Training (Association Nationale pour la Formation Professionnelle des Adultes, AFPA), and an increase in the means allocated to public employment services; and
  • quantitative results - 160,000 jobs for young people created and more than 410,000 young people on work/training schemes or apprenticeships at the end of 1998, 115,000 young people and adult job-seekers benefiting from the "new start" programme, more than 4,000 agreements signed on the reduction of working time at company or sector level by the end of April 1999 (FR9906190F), a fall of around one percentage point in the unemployment rate, and a reduction in the number of job-seekers registered at the ANPE by more than 150,000 (5%)

The government wants the measures implemented in 1998 to continue their momentum into 1999, with 250,000 jobs under the "new services-jobs for young people" scheme planned by the end of the year. Additionally, the second law on the 35-hour week will come under parliamentary scrutiny in autumn 1999 (FR9906190F), and the "new start programme" for young people and job seekers will affect 850,000 people by the end of 1999, with a target of 2 million benefiting from its provisions by 2002. The number of work/training and apprenticeship study contracts should reach 425,000 in 1999, while the number of beneficiaries of the five-year "consolidated employment" contracts for very long-term unemployed people should double, reaching 60,000. Finally, the TRACE programme should assist 40,000 young people in great hardship.

New objectives and measures

The 1999 NAP adds a number of new initiaitves and goals:

  • strengthening the provisions of the "pillar" on equal opportunities for men and women. The European Commission pointed out the 1998 French NAP's weakness in this field. The creation of a state secretariat and an interministerial committee on women's rights over the last few months, combined with forthcoming specific policies based on the conclusions of the taskforces headed by Yves Colmou and Catherine Génisson, coordinated by "mainstreaming" within the 1999 NAP, should make this set of measures much more consistent;
  • launching a reform of the vocational training system. Since the publication of secretary of state Péry's white paper on vocational training (FR9904172F), discussions between the social partners and the authorities have got under way. They are to end in negotiations on the reform of the system; and
  • taking new steps in the search for a taxation and social security system which does more to foster job creation. New measures will reduce labour costs for unskilled workers in companies that have negotiated 35-hour week agreements (FR9905184N), and there will an experimental reduction of VAT in labour-intensive sectors (EU9902152N).

Employers' and unions' reactions

CFTC spoke on behalf of four trade union confederations - itself, CFDT, CFE-CGC and CGT- and suggested a collective review of the working methods of the Committee for Social Dialogue on European and International Issues, claiming that the deadlines for studying the draft NAP did not allow the unions enough time to contribute in any significant way. However, CGT-FO and CFDT nevertheless welcomed the creation of other working groups, which had enabled a genuine exchange of ideas to take place on the NAP. CFDT wanted the social partners to be closely involved in the Plan's implementation.

For both CGT and CGT-FO, however, the NAP is "essentially a government project". The MEDEF employers' confederation felt that the points raised by the social partners during the working group sessions had not been taken into account, and wanted more information on the discussions over NAPs in other countries, notably in order to check whether the topic of the reduction of working time has been highlighted by other governments.

Unions were reserved on the employment-creating virtues of a decrease in social security contributions. CGT-FO refused to be deemed "jointly responsible for the results of the fight against unemployment".

The French section of the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) presented a detailed written contribution to the 1999 NAP, which dealt mainly with public policy coordination at the local level, and its impact on local systems of production, consistent with CEEP's previous proposals at the December 1998 Vienna European Council summit meeting.

Commentary

France's second NAP seems to have involved the social partners to a greater extent than its predecessor, after the overhaul of the Committee for Social Dialogue on European and International Issues at the end of 1998, and the establishment of informal working groups within it. However, the deadlines still seem too short for the various organisations represented to be able genuinely to provide detailed contributions. The example of the French section of CEEP is an exception in this regard.

Three points should also be stressed:

  • the divergence of opinion between the various organisations on the extent to which the social partners should be involved in the debate on, and even in the implementation of, the NAP. The divergent attitudes and stances on this issue are manifested by the differences between the French section of CEEP and MEDEF on the employers' side, and those between CFDT and CGT-FO on the union side;
  • embryonic coordination between trade unions on European issues, as witnessed by the joint declaration of four confederations, read out by CFTC; and
  • the continuing weak relationship between the positions of international organisations of both workers and employers and their national members. With the notable exception of the contribution made by the French section of CEEP, which referred to CEEP's positions, the other national organisations do not base their own positions on those of their international bodies, such as the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). (Maurice Braud, IRES)
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