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28 March 2019

France: reform of occupational health and safety sections in the Labour Code subject of consultations

The French government has initiated consultation on a planned reform of parts of the Labour Code that regulate occupational health and safety legislation. The social partners have indicated a willingness to contribute to this process. However, the trade unions added that it is necessary to go beyond paying lip service to reform and start real negotiations over the quality of work.

The Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Solidarity and Health, which share responsibility for health and safety at work, have begun consultations on occupational health and safety legislation, following publication of several reports. The social partners have been invited to participate in the legislative reform process. The debate opened on 12 March 2019 when both the labour ministry and the health ministry wrote to the trade unions and employers with an invitation to ‘conduct a shared and structured reflection’ on developments desired in the field of occupational health. The usual approach is that the social partners discuss issues in this area in the framework of the Comité d'orientation des conditions de travail (COCT). The follow-up will be publication by the government of a guidance document. This will start a second phase involving consultation, and possibly negotiation, depending on the topics.

A first meeting was held in mid-March, and on that occasion the trade unions came up with a joint statement. In their joint statement the unions underlined a determination to thoroughly review the occupational risk prevention system. Companies must be encouraged to rely on the actors of occupational health, in order to set up a strategy for the primary prevention of occupational risks and to ensure traceability of workers' health status, enabling them to respect their legal obligations in this regard. Moreover, the opening of negotiations should lead to real discussions on the quality of work and other related labour issues, such as work organisation, and the meaning and purpose of labour in recognition of the fact that the difficulties encountered by workers in their jobs cannot be eliminated by simple codes of conduct.

In the invitation the ministries stressed that securing the support of companies ‘to develop a culture of prevention’ is of the utmost importance. According to the ministers the three subsequent occupational health plans of the past have resulted in ‘insufficient’ progress. Moreover, the reform must lead to better protection of the health of all workers and promote the prolongation of their careers.

In August 2018, the Lecocq-report, named after one of the authors, had proposed a long list of recommendations to facilitate and streamline business access to occupational safety and health prevention. The report was based on the observation that the current system was no longer responsive to companies' expectations of workplace prevention issues. The system needed to evolve as it was considered too complex and inefficient, with too many duplicate clauses. A second study, the Frimat-report, was published in August 2018 and covered prevention and protection issues related to the exposure of chemical substances. The report analysed the existing legal frame in this area and strongly recommended appropriate OHS-training. It also recommended the enhanced enforcement of mandatory preventive measures in a production and supply chain (from ‘the cradle to the grave)’.

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