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31 August 2017

France: Government unveils its plans to overhaul the Labour Code

On 31 August, the French Government published the fruits of its work over the summer months – five decrees laying out far-reaching reforms to the Labour Code.

The main points of tension between the Government and the trade unions relate to social dialogue within companies, the merger of staff representative bodies and the capping of compensation for unfair dismissal.

Social dialogue: the Government has confirmed that, in companies with fewer than 50 workers, employers will in future be able to conduct negotiations with a staff representative who is not affiliated with a trade union.

Merger of staff representative bodies: the Government’s decrees confirm that the merger of staff representative bodies will be going ahead, meaning that Health, Safety and Working Conditions Committees will disappear and their tasks will instead be entrusted to a single employee representative body known as the Social and Economic Committee. Companies employing more than 300 workers will, however, be obliged to appoint a Health, Safety and Working Conditions Commission; the same is true for smaller companies in the nuclear sector and those liable under the Seveso Directive.

Compensation for unfair dismissal: employment tribunals will be obliged to award sliding-scale compensation in cases where employers are found guilty of unfair dismissal, capped at one month’s pay for employees who have worked for the company for less than two years and three months’ pay for those who have been there two years or more, up to a maximum of 20 months’ pay for anyone with a 30‑year record of employment at the same company. This contrasts with the previous situation, in which awards of compensation started at six months’ pay. In return, statutory severance payments will be increased from the current one fifth to one quarter of one months’ pay for each year of service.

Trade union responses to the decrees published by the Government have been mixed.

The General Confederation of Labour (CGT) criticised the reform in strong tones: according to Philippe Martinez, CGT Secretary-General, ‘All of our worst fears have been confirmed. (…) This means the end of the employment contract.’ The CGT made fresh calls for a day of strikes and demonstrations on 12 September 2017.

Laurent Berger, Secretary-General of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), told the newspaper Le Monde that the Government had ‘missed the boat’, before going on to say that ‘The impression we get is that the Government is trying to do the bare minimum necessary to recognise the role played by trade unions, while at the same time depriving them of the means to take action.’

Workers’ Force (Force Ouvrière, FO) has not yet made clear its final position, saying that it needs more time to examine the texts in their entirety. Shortly before the decrees were published, Jean-Claude Mailly (FO Secretary-General) welcomed the ‘genuine dialogue’ which had been established with the Government.

 

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