France submits NAP for 2000

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France's National Action Plan (NAP) for employment, in response to the EU Employment Guidelines for 2000, was the subject of numerous discussions between the social partners and the government before being submitted in May 2000. For the first time, a review of the contribution made by the social partners to the NAP is included in the Plan itself.

The European Union's "Luxembourg process", whereby each year the Member States produce National Action Plans (NAP s) for employment in response to EU Employment Guidelines, entered its third year in 2000 (EU9909187F), and the procedures for the preparation and implementation of the French NAP are now running smoothly. Following the 1998 Plan, in which the social partners played only a minor role (FR9805107F), the 1999 Plan saw a greater participation. The CFDT, CFE-CGC, CFTC and CGT union confederations issued a joint statement, while the French section of the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) submitted a detailed written contribution (FR9906189F). On the basis of this experience, preparations for the 2000 Plan were launched in autumn 1999 by discussions, under the auspices of the Committee for Social Dialogue on European and International Issues (Comité du dialogue social pour les questions européennes et internationales, CDSEI) (FR9812149N), on the European Commission's evaluation of the French 1999 NAP and its proposed Employment Guidelines for 2000.

Major focus of France's 2000 NAP

The 2000 French NAP is divided into the following four parts of varying importance:

  1. a review of the implementation of the 1999 Plan;
  2. new initiatives for the 2000 NAP;
  3. the contribution of the social partners; and
  4. an appraisal of the contribution made by the European Social Fund.

In 1999, the French employment strategy was based, as in the two preceding years, on three objectives; stronger economic growth; economic growth which is more employment-intensive; and growth which benefits everybody. During 1999, the number of people in employment grew strongly by 465,000, following a fall of 385,000 recorded in 1998. These new jobs contributed to a significant drop in the unemployment rate, down from 12.6% in June 1997 to 11.5% in late 1998 and 10.6% at the end of 1999 (according to ILO calculation methods). The review of the implementation of the 1999 French NAP examines all the measures and provisions implemented by the government under each of the four "pillars" of the EU Employment Guidelines for 1999 - improving employability, developing entrepreneurship, encouraging adaptability of businesses and their employees, and strengthening equal opportunities policies for women and men.

The French NAP for 2000 states formally the desire of the French government to address the recommendations put forward by the EU authorities in their evaluation of the 1999 Plan. The four major recommendations form the basis for a detailed reply as well as commitments or proposals for the coming year, including: the re-engineering of existing benefit systems to encourage older workers to remain in employment longer; the adoption of coordinated strategies - especially in the area of taxation –to reduce the administrative burden on employers; further measures to relieve the tax burden on labour, particularly unskilled labour; and the strengthening of social partnership in order to adopt a comprehensive approach to modernising the organisation of work.

In addition, the 2000 French NAP sets a series of new objectives. In terms of improving employability and the reintegration of unemployed people into the labour market, several existing programmes will be further developed during the current year, including the "personalised job-start" scheme, in partnership with the National Employment Agency (Agence nationale pour l'emploi, ANPE) and the National Association for Adult Vocational Training (Association nationale pour la formation professionnelle des adultes, AFPA). Life-long apprenticeship and training opportunities will also be developed through the current government-sponsored overhaul of the French vocational training system (FR0003144N). A major commitment has been made in this area, including: an overhaul of the integrated vocational education system (through the "integrated vocational education charter"); the modernisation of higher education (creation of vocational bachelor's and master's degrees); a resolve to provide wider access to information technology (eg through a policy of equipping and wiring schools and the introduction of new AFPA modules); and a significant boost to the French population's ability to adapt to developments in technology.

In 2000, initiatives for developing entrepreneurship are particularly focused on promoting new business activities, through the revitalisation of business start-ups and the targeting of areas in which labour shortages are being felt, such as computer-related industries, food and catering sectors (eg bakers, butchers and chefs), construction (eg masons and roofers), forest-related and metalworking industries.

The promotion of company and worker adaptability in the 2000 NAP is mainly based on the January 2000 law on the reduction of working time, in terms of flexible working hours, the organisation and development of training and the development of "employer groupings" or "multiple employment" (FR0001137F).

In the area of promoting equal opportunities, the 2000 NAP places special emphasis on initial training, through an agreement between the Ministry for National Education, the secretary of state for Women's Rights and Vocational Training and the Ministry for Agriculture to foster education based on the mutual respect of both sexes. The strengthening of social dialogue in this area, the mobilisation of Ministry for Employment staff, their regional counterparts, and the social partners, combined with legislative initiatives in 2000 designed to improve employment equality in the private sector and the civil service, should all have the desired effect. Finally, the reduction of working time and the improvement in the number and quality of various types of day childcare facilities should help to facilitate the reconciliation of family and professional life.

Social partners' contribution

Unlike in 1999, the trade unions did not issue a joint statement on the 2000 NAP. However, it seems that the government paid heed to their remarks on the working practices of the Committee for Social Dialogue on European and International Issues. An "ad hoc working party" within the Committee met regularly from the beginning of 2000 to prepare the French NAP. While in 1999, only the French section of CEEP had presented a contribution the Plan, in 2000 more employers' and workers' organisations provided input. Apart from CEEP, which provided a new written contribution, CFDT, CGT-FO, the Craftworkers' Union (Union professionnelle artisanale, UPA) and the National Union of Professionals (Union nationale des professions libérales, UNAPL) all provided contributions. Indeed, the chapter of the French 2000 NAP dealing with the contribution of the social partners was drafted under the partners' supervision. The current talks among the French social partners on the reform of industrial relations (FR0002143F) deal with areas covered by the Plan and any agreements reached, in particular on the issue of vocational training and unemployment benefits (FR0004154N), will be submitted to the government as a contribution to the Plan.

Some organisations also want to be more closely involved in the operational follow-up of the measures announced by the government, and ad-hoc groups may be set up within the CDSEI to achieve this. The 2000 NAP also identifies the main social partner proposals included in the Plan itself. These proposals include the perceived need for decentralisation of employment policy. A call for more effective coordination of local action, which was initially put forward by the French section of CEEP, was supported by many other organisations.

However, not all organisations plan to take part in the discussions on the Plan to the same extent. Some evidently wish to be more involved than others. The social partners' independence in terms of public policy-making has been strongly reasserted by the MEDEF employers' confederation and, to a lesser extent by the CGT-FO union confederation.

Commentary

The procedures for debate with the social partners on the French NAP have been significantly improved in 2000. The strengthening of the organisational structure of the CDSEI and the regular nature of its work have allowed trust to develop between the various social partners and government officials. From this perspective, the 2000 NAP has come of age to some extent.

Differences in opinion among both unions and employers' organisations as to the desired degree of social partner involvement in the Plan have persisted. The current talks on the "overhaul" of French industrial relations are likely to alter significantly the various positions of the parties on this point.

The articulation of the stances of international trade union and employers' organisations and their national affiliated organisations seems still to be in its infancy (with the exception, this year, of Eurocadres, the grouping of managerial and professional staff organisations linked to the European Trade Union Confederation, which includes affiliates of CFDT, CFTC, CGT and CGT-FO). (Maurice Braud, IRES)

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