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18 November 2015

France: the government gives itself two years to “revamp” the Labour Code

On 4 November the French Government outlined its reform of the Labour Code. While retaining key principles such as the 35-hour week, the plan is to simplify the text “to create a more favourable environment for hiring”.

At around 3 000 pages, the French Labour Code has long been in the sights of employers who make no bones about drawing a parallel between the increasing number of articles in the “little red book” and the pattern of unemployment.

Without taking the same shortcuts, the French Government agrees with employers that, due to its complexity, the Labour Code has become an obstacle to job creation, particularly among SMEs.

In order to adapt the Labour Code to the situation on the ground for businesses, the French Prime Minister wants to make much wider use of negotiation within businesses, while preserving the core of “fundamental principles” common to all employees.

Although the government has reiterated its commitment to the 35-hour week, it plans to allow negotiation within businesses on the annualisation of working time. In other words, an employer could get its employees to work for 46 hours a week for 12 weeks through a company-level agreement signed by one or more trade unions representing 50 % of employees’ votes.

The Prime Minister has also reiterated the government’s intention not to meddle with the minimum wage – known as the SMIC – or employment contracts.

The government also wants to drastically reduce the number of occupational fields, particularly those with fewer than 5 000 employees, in order to go from 700 to 200 within three years.

A draft law will be submitted to the National Assembly during the first quarter of 2016, with the goal of completing the Labour Code reform before the end of 2018.

Trade union reaction to the plan differs widely. The CFDT has reacted fairly positively, taking the view that the reform could “represent social progress for employees”, whereas the CGT has described this as the “new gift to Medef”, which is the organisation representing French employers. Force Ouvrière is calling for caution because a “number of ambiguities or contradictions remain”.

Further reading:

Website of the French Government

Trade union press releases: FO - CGT - CFDT

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