Government presents employment policy for next 12 months
The second Grand Social Conference was held in France in June 2013. The first, the brainchild of French President François Hollande, was held in July 2012 shortly after his election and brought together government representatives and social partners to define social policy. This second conference established a road map of initiatives, reforms and negotiations for the next 12 months on employment and social dialogue, to be developed in consultation with employers and unions.
A year after the first Grand Social Conference (FR1205031I) in July 2012, the Government of France held a second. It invited 300 representatives of employers, trade unions, and regional and local authorities to take part. The second Grand Social Conference was held on 20–21 June 2013.
Organised around six themed round-table discussions (in French), a list of areas for action was created to be tackled over the next 12 months. It was anticipated that a new pensions reform package, due to be adopted from this year (FR1306021I), would be launched at the meeting. However, the scope of the road map (in French, 1.34 MB PDF) adopted by the conference is much broader. It affects all the areas in which employers and trade unions are involved, from social dialogue to employment, and also includes vocational training.
Developing social dialogue
The government confirmed its view that there should be preliminary social dialogue before a law is enacted on certain work-related issues. It said this should be written into the Constitution, as stated in the government bill passed on 13 March 2013 by the French Council of Ministers. The revision of the Constitution requires a three-fifths majority of the votes cast by both chambers of parliament convened in Congress.
Organisations representing employees and employers would be invited to negotiations before the government adopted any order or private member’s bill reforming individual and collective employment relations, employment, or vocational training. Article L1 (in French) of the Labour Code, introduced by the law of 31 January 2007 known as the Larcher Law (FR0704039I), obliges the government to consult with social partners before any reforms to labour laws are made, for instance through procedures adopted by the French parliament – the National Assembly and the Senate – as a result of private members’ bills.
The government also intends to move forward with the reform of the representativeness of employer organisations (FR1307031I). It will publish a first report on the progress of the 2008 reform of the representativeness of trade unions (FR0808039I), which will supplement the first assessment, produced in 2011 (FR1109031I).
A consultation process has begun with employer and trade union organisations to make proposals for legislation to increase worker participation in industrial relations. The bill is due to be presented in the first half of 2014 and aims to enhance the career path of trade union activists. It will also improve training for employee representatives and provide ‘sound, sustainable and transparent material and financial resources for those involved in social dialogue’.
Another government bill dealing with the transparency of works council accounts is in the pipeline.
The government intends to set up a monitoring committee to examine industrial relations at sectoral level, inactive for several years. It also wants to encourage federations to regroup or experiment with an inter-federal negotiation process.
Large-scale employment mobilisation
The government and employer and trade union organisations committed themselves to a ‘large-scale mobilisation for employment’. This commitment is aimed at accelerating the roll-out of the different systems of supported employment contracts, the Jobs for the Future programme (FR1209021I) and the ‘inter-generation contract’ (FR1209031I).
In the hope of preserving jobs in the difficult economic climate, the government has announced that it will combine and simplify short-time working systems.
The government, the regions and employer and trade union organisations have also agreed to finance ‘priority training places for employment’ from September 2013 onwards. According to a Ministry of Labour press release (in French), the target is to finance 30,000 additional training places between now and the end of 2013, in order to meet skills requirements that have been identified for each region and each sector.
Employer and trade union organisations, which manage the unemployment insurance system, will have to negotiate a new agreement on unemployment insurance by the end of this year to comply with legislation designed to improve the security of employment. The aim is to make sure that when unemployed people take short-term employment, they do not lose their entitlement to benefits. The new agreement will also make it possible to set an appropriate level of unemployment insurance contributions for people working on short-term contracts.
Vocational training reform
The employer and trade union organisations have been invited to begin negotiations on vocational training, on the basis of the government’s guidance document (in French, 133 KB PDF) published on 8 July 2013. The aim is to reach a national interprofessional agreement that will make it possible for the government to present a bill before the end of the year to increase the role of training in making career paths more secure and remedying shortfalls in the vocational training system. In particular, the government wants more done to help the most poorly-qualified employees and unemployed people.
The talks will determine, among other things, the details of the individual training account, created by the national interprofessional agreement of 13 January 2013 (FR1302011I) and restated in the law on improving employment security.
The government has also proposed negotiations from September 2013 between employers, trade union organisations and other stakeholders to look at the development of linking work and training. Statutory provisions will be decided on by the end of 2013.
Extended strategic workforce planning
To more accurately anticipate changes in the jobs and skills required by companies, the government intends to ‘increase the collective capacity to observe and forecast’. During the first quarter of 2014, the state, regions, employer organisations and trade unions will take part in a dialogue about future industries and skills.
The Economic Policy Planning Commission (CGSP), a body that reports directly to the Prime Minister, will be responsible for coordinating an observation network to forecast jobs and skills needs. This will draw together representatives of the state, employer and trade union organisations, the regions, industry-specific monitors and forecasting organisations. Two supporting documents, one on the regional outlook and another on the outlook for each sector, are due to be finalised in autumn 2013 and the first quarter of 2014 respectively.
Employer and union reaction
The government’s announcements have failed to convince the more combative trade union organisations.
The General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and Force Ouvrière (FO) are unhappy with announcements made on pension reform in particular. The unions are already planning to call for industrial action from September to oppose the government’s plans concerning pensions and to demand measures to improve purchasing power.
There is also a noticeable disappointment among the ‘reformist’ trade unions These include the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (CFE-CGC), the French Democratic Federation of Labour (CFDT), the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (CFTC), and the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions (UNSA). They remain unconvinced by the government plans overall, though the leaders of the CFDT and the CFTC have said they are satisfied with President Hollande’s initiatives to boost employment.
Laurence Parisot, president of employers’ federation MEDEF at the time of the second Grand Conference, felt the talks had been ‘very useful’. She said the conference showed that ‘some areas of agreement were possible’. However, she was critical of the pension reform plans, calling for more rapid progress in ‘changing the parameters of the contribution period and the statutory retirement age’. Parisot was replaced as MEDEF President by Pierre Gattaz, elected on 3 July 2013.
Jean-François Roubaud, President of the General Confederation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (CGPME) also said he was unhappy with the direction being taken on pension reform. He demanded urgent action to stimulate employment.
The state of public finances is forcing the government to pursue structural reforms to improve the operation of the labour market and ensure the financial stability of the pensions system. Employer and trade union organisations are being encouraged to consult and negotiate more frequently.
The three major subjects on the agenda are pensions, vocational training, and the development of social dialogue.
This road map goes some way towards appeasing the ‘reformist’ trade unions and also towards satisfying certain demands made by the CGT and FO. By doing this, the government is attempting achieve some measure of balance so that it can avoid head-on confrontation with a united trade union movement. Such a clash would spell the end of any reform.
The real test will come with the implementation of the pension reform package. The more combative trade unions have already called for action in September.
The reform of representativeness gave a narrow majority of votes to the reformist trade unions at the elections of employees’ representatives.
Meanwhile, by setting up a series of industrial relations conferences, the government hopes to initiate reform through social dialogue. It therefore seems that the French system of industrial relations appears to be metamorphosing, albeit gradually, into one where changes are negotiated rather than imposed.
Frédéric TURLAN, IR Share