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22 December 2017

France: reform stays on the agenda

A new round of reforms has received mixed reactions from the French trade union movement. While the CGT, joined later by Force Ouvrière, organised mass strikes and street protests, against the reforms. While the trade union CFDT will keep negotiating with the government. The reforms introduces shorter periods of indemnity in case of redundancies, with further reform of the unemployment benefit scheme planned. The idea is also expected to modify the workers’ representation system at company level. This will diminish the number of representatives in larger companies.

Reform plans of the government have led to an autumn full of protest. The first proposals were launched shortly after the summer in five decrees that should make it easier for firms to hire and fire. As a consequence, indemnities set by employment tribunals will be capped at three months’ salary for employees with more than two years employment and up to 20 months for those with 30 years of employment. The government claims that the objective is to help young people more easily into jobs. In its opinion the rigid labour code makes hire and fire in direct jobs too difficult. Therefore, youngsters have been forced onto a succession of fixed term contracts as employers are reluctant to take on workers in direct labour contracts.

In a continuing round of reforms, the government wants to extend unemployment benefits to independent entrepreneurs, farmers and merchants who go bankrupt. Employees who voluntarily quit will also be entitled to unemployment benefits under strict conditions, to encourage workers to change jobs more easily. The government also wants to reform the way benefits are financed and help unemployed people acquire new skills needed in a rapidly changing global economy. Critics say the planned reforms will make workers more vulnerable to poor treatment. The French presidency organised meetings with the social partners to discuss the matter.

A third component of the reform is the simplification of the plant level talks between management and labour through the merger of different workers’ representation bodies at company level. The September decrees provide for a merger of the existing representative bodies at company into a body called the Social and Economic Committee (ESC). This would bring together former works councils (CEs), staff representatives (DPs) and occupational safety and health committees (CHSCT). According to the draft decree, transmitted to the social partners, a company of 3,000 employees would have only 25 elected in his CSE, against a total of 28 in the previous separate instances (-3 elected). The decree does not touch upon the credit hours for representative work and would only be applicable in large companies (beyond 3000 workers). Notably the merger of the general representation and the CHSCT-committee is seen by observers as the end of an era.

The trade unions have been divided over how to respond to the reforms, with trade union CGT taking to the streets while the CFDT said to prefer negotiations. Force Ouvriere also wanted negotiations but  joined the CGT later on in its protest. In the autumn protests against the second round of reforms, the CFDT stayed absent. 

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