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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - France

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - France, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd8894f19.html [accessed 26 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: 62,700,000
Capital: Paris

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Dismissals: 6

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

The right to strike was strongly contested both by employers and the authorities. The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, addressing a compliant on this issue, called on the government to prioritise dialogue. Strikers were unfairly dismissed. Strike breaking became the norm, as seen at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, where police officers were sent in to replace private security guards. Political attacks were orchestrated in a bid to throw trade unions into disrepute, creating a climate of mistrust.

Background

As the debt crisis threatened the eurozone, the government announced an austerity plan, including drastic cuts in public spending, in a bid to save over 100 billion euros and reach a zero deficit by 2016. The new plan represents a continuation of the austerity measures already imposed through the General Review of Public Policies, for example, or the pension reform.

At the end of 2011, France entered campaign mode, ahead of the 2012 presidential election. In October, François Hollande was selected as the Socialist Party's candidate for the 2012 presidential elections.

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.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Complaint to the ILO concerning abusive requisitioning at end of 2010: In February, the Confédération générale du travail (CGT) lodged a complaint with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association against the French government, following the requisitioning in the oil industry during the massive protests against the pension reform in October 2010. Trade unions had strongly criticised the government's reaction to the protests at the time: its all-out refusal to negotiate, attempts to weaken the protest movement and abusive requisitioning of workers. The CGT estimated at 160 the number of striking workers requisitioned. The confederation pointed out that the authorities' aim was not to ensure a minimum service in an essential service but clearly to break a strike. In November, the Committee on Freedom of Association requested the government "to ensure that, in future situations where a non-essential service is paralysed, but where measures to ensure a minimum service could be justified, the workers' and employers' organisations concerned are involved in the decision-making process, and that measures are not imposed unilaterally".

Anti-union discrimination regularly condemned by courts: Acts of anti-union discrimination were punished by courts on several occasions during 2011. On 12 April, for example, the appeal court of Nîmes condemned computer company Dell to pay damages and interest to a CGT union representative for discrimination and moral harassment, based on "unjustified sanctions following any procedure with any trade union overtones, the comments made regarding the activities related to his trade union position, his physical sidelining combined with the suppression of all his tasks ... conduct which constitutes harassment aimed at weakening working conditions in a way likely to affect rights and dignity." Several court cases were won by union representatives, whose career development was deemed to have been clearly blocked on grounds of their union involvement by employers such as Wagon automobile, Renault, the Caisse générale de sécurité sociale (social security department) in Reunion and the Caisse primaire assurance maladie (public health insurance department).

Representation issues:

The new rules on representativeness approved by the two largest trade union centres, Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT) and Confédération générale du travail (CGT), have been contested by several unions, including the Confédération générale du travail-Force ouvrière (CGT-FO), which filed a complaint with the ILO, alleging that the legislation concerning social democracy, passed in 2008, infringes freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Representativeness criteria based on voting strength has become mandatory, with the setting of representativeness thresholds of 10% of the votes for unions and representatives in elections at company or workplace level and 30% for collective agreements to be declared valid. The CGT-FO complaint refers to the criteria for the appointment of union representatives, the procedure to determine representativeness in the event of restructuring, the uncertainties during the transition period, the duration of the mandates and the constant electioneering that could undermine social dialogue, which the law was designed to improve.

In November, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association concluded by inviting the government to examine the possibility of revising the legislation with regard to the appointment of trade union representatives and to refer the examination of various other criticisms to the High Council for Social Dialogue (HCDS), which is due to issue an opinion on the results of the assessment of union voting strength in 2013, at the end of the first electoral cycle after the legislation's entry into force. As regards the representativeness thresholds, the committee considered them to be compatible with the principles of freedom of association.

Violations

Trade unionists unfairly dismissed:

Many employers continued to fire striking workers and union activists, as in the two following cases.

On 22 February, following a strike at one of its sites in La Courneuve (Seine-Saint-Denis), the management of the U.S. delivery company UPS initiated dismissal procedures on grounds of "gross misconduct" against five employees, including two members of Force Ouvrière (FO). The company claimed that they had "deliberately and actively blocked the free circulation of delivery trucks", by virtue of which they were suspended, despite the fact that all of the drivers and warehouse staff were on strike. Following trade union pressure and an inquiry by the labour inspectorate, UPS had to overturn its decision and reinstate the suspended workers.

At the end of February, the management at the PSA Peugeot-Citroën factory in Aulnay upheld its decision to dismiss the Confédération générale du travail (CGT) union representative, Ahmed Berrazel, despite the labour inspectorate's verdict that the dismissal was "clearly linked to his trade union activities and duties". Ahmed Berrazel, aged 29, has already been the target of five disciplinary actions and an 18-day suspension in recent years. Following support actions led by the union, however, the management finally withdrew its Ministerial appeal and suspended the union representative for six days rather than dismissing him. Tensions are high within the PSA group, which announced 5,000 job cuts in France in 2011.

FN attempts to infiltrate unions: Several trade unionists who presented themselves as candidates with the far-right Front National (FN) during the local elections were expelled by their union organisations. The unions called on their members to be vigilant, reminding them that trade union values are not compatible with the ideas of this party advocating "national preference". The CGT, FO and CFDT union centres denounced the FN's entryist tactics seeking to exploit trade unions for its own political gain. The Front National responded to the expulsions by announcing the formation of a national circle for the defence of unionised workers, Cercle national de défense des travailleurs syndiqués (CNDTS), to fight against "the intolerable attacks on democratic principles being perpetrated by the main trade union centres".

Member of Parliament proposes ban on strikes during peak holiday travel periods:

Following Air France's announcement of its unilateral decision to cut working conditions, the unions gave notice of plans to strike (subsequently withdrawn), provoking a bitter reaction from a parliamentary deputy, Lionnel Luca, who is close to the Transport Minister. In a demagogic attack expressing his anti-union sentiment, the deputy called for a strike ban during peak holiday travel periods, recalling that he had already presented a bill to this end in the past.

The daily newspaper Ouest-France held an opinion poll on the controversial issue, which revealed that two out of three people oppose the measure, quoting their support for the right to strike as the grounds for their opposition.

Employers' strike breaking tactics:

In August, several trade unions denounced an initiative by the Paris transport department, Régie des transports parisiens (RATP), aimed at replacing striking drivers with managers and supervisors, who were offered a monthly bonus of 100 euros for being available in the event of a strike. Whilst the law on minimum services in public transport provides for measures to ensure the continuity of the service in case of a strike, it also establishes an obligation to engage in dialogue and to take dispute prevention measures. The need to respect this obligation is erased in this scenario. Trade unions consider the initiative to be discriminatory.

The use of private contractors is becoming increasingly commonplace, not only in airports but also for the surveillance of ministerial or court buildings. Trade unions also denounced the poor pay and working conditions of private security guards.

Malicious leaks in the press: On 14 December, several trade union confederations and an employers' organisation called for the publication of a report of the commission of inquiry into the funding of the social partners with which they had collaborated. The report was not voted on, which, in principle, means that its content, the hearings and the discussions within the commission are confidential. However, incomplete and biased information reported by the press managed to discredit the workings of trade unions, despite their compliance with the new rules enacted by the law of 2008 on the publication of audited accounts.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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