Last Updated: Friday, 25 July 2014, 12:52 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - France

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - France, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea6620ec.html [accessed 25 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 62,300,000
Capital: Paris
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

An excessive use of requisition orders, the sometimes brutal intervention of police in strikes and demonstrations, and more broadly the authorities' refusal to negotiate were denounced by many trade unions during the huge protests against pension reform. The right to collective bargaining and the right to strike are guaranteed by the constitution, but there are restrictions.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN LAW

Freedom of association, collective bargaining and the right to strike are fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. While enterprise-level agreements cannot be less favourable for workers than higher-level agreements, "derogation clauses" introduced through amendments to the Labour Code in 2004 allow for the waiving of this principle in numerous instances.

Certain types of strike action are prohibited, such as go-slows, sit-ins and work-to-rules. The 2007 Act concerning public transport introduced a number of controversial clauses, such as requiring workers to give notice of their intention to take part in a strike 48 hours before it commences. In addition, as of day eight of a strike, workers can be called on, including by the employer, to vote whether the action should continue. Finally, in the absence of an agreement, to be signed by the end of the year, the employer is entitled to establish the minimum level of services to be provided during a strike.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: Highly unpopular pension reforms led to three months of strikes and demonstrations. Despite a level of mobilisation not seen in over 15 years, with between 1.2 and 3.5 million demonstrators out on the streets at the height of the movement, the unions failed to get the authorities to modify their plans. The law was promulgated on 10 November. It raises the retirement age from 60 to 62 years, and from 65 to 67 years (to get a full pension). Those worst affected will be women, whose careers are often irregular, and those who began work young.

Support grows in campaign for the regularisation of undocumented workers: Throughout the year undocumented workers in many towns organised strike pickets and occupied public buildings or the premises of small enterprises to demand regularisation. Several local temporary employment agencies were occupied. Often they were evicted, sometimes brutally, following court orders. Support from trade unions and many associations had an impact in terms of government commitments on the criteria and procedures for the regularisation of undocumented workers. The national trade union centres are very attentive to the situation of migrant workers. Those who do not enjoy the protection that would come from having legal status are exposed to very low quality and low paid jobs. Their situation makes any trade union involvement particularly difficult, and therefore strongly impacts on their access to the rights guaranteed by ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

Fear of reprisals a barrier to organising: Despite the failure of the unions' efforts to change the pension reforms, they did prove their great capacity to mobilise the population. According to analysts, the unions' image has been improved by this crisis. The unions appear to the French to be more pragmatic than in the past. However the "fear of reprisals" is even greater than it was a few years ago, preventing workers from joining the unions.

Heated controversy over requisitions in refineries: In October, the requisitioning order directed at workers in the refineries was denounced by the trade unions as undermining the right to strike. An excessively broad interpretation of the notion of public order led to highly controversial requisitioning measures and in some cases police violence, such as on Friday 22 October when access to the Grandpuits refinery was unblocked by the police. The unions lambasted the "scandalous" police charge that left three people injured and briefly hospitalised. The trade unions criticised the preventive measures taken on often erroneous grounds: shortages yet to be proved, maintaining minimum activity in vital public services, etc.

Trade union activity recorded on police files: On 17 December the Council of State rejected an appeal by several trade unions and human rights organisations asking that two 2009 decrees on the creation of two central police files be examined by the Constitutional Court. The files record data concerning, inter alia, trade union involvement and are therefore considered a serious threat to trade union rights (see 2010 Annual Survey).

Frequent cases of anti-union discrimination: Despite legal protection, numerous cases of anti-union discrimination occur every year. To take just one recent example reported by the General Confederation of Trade Unions (CGT), on 29 December, Isri France, an Alsace-based subsidiary of the German group Isringhousen, instituted dismissal procedures against three employees in retaliation for a four hour stoppage. The four were considered to be the leaders of the strike, held in mid-December in support of a pay demand. The 23 other strikers were laid off for five days.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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