Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2017, 15:40 GMT

2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - France

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - France, 20 November 2008, available at: [accessed 12 December 2017]
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: 61,600,000
Capital: Paris
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

In line with the electoral promises of President Sarkozy, a new law severely restricts the right to strike in public transport. Employers are using subtle tactics to weaken trade unions. Trade union rights are considered inalienable, but there are many legal nuances constraining their use.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association, collective bargaining and the right to strike are fundamental rights enshrined in the Preamble to the 1946 Constitution, which is still valid. Workers are free to form and joint trade unions, with the only exception being military personnel as well as prefects and sub-prefects, due to their status as representatives of the State. Migrant workers have the right to be elected to trade union posts if they are at least 18 years old.

Trade unions need to be registered, which only means depositing the union constitutions and list of leaders with the city council. In theory, public prosecutors can verify compliance of a trade union constitution with the law, but this is a mere formality.

Collective bargaining: Collective bargaining takes place at all levels (national, regional, inter-professional, industry, company or group of companies). If an enterprise is unionised, the employer is obliged to engage in collective bargaining on pay, working hours and organisation of working time, and may be fined for failure to do so.

In case of bodies principally financed from public funds (such as social security agencies), the approval of supervisory authority is needed for a collective agreement to come into force.

Right to strike: As a constitutional right, strike is subject to very little legal regulation. Certain rules have been developed through jurisprudence, such as prohibition of go-slow, sit-in and work-to-rule strikes as well as strikes without any demands (grèves d'autosatisfaction).

On 1 August the Parliament adopted the Act respecting social dialogue and continuity of the public service in scheduled land passenger transport. Three articles are especially controversial: firstly, a worker must declare his participation in strike at least 48 hours before the strike commences; otherwise, he or she may face disciplinary action. Moreover, starting from the eight day of work stoppage, workers can be asked to vote on continuation of the strike, and this secret ballot can also be initiated by the employer. Finally, in the absence of an agreement that has to be signed before the end of the year, the employer can determine the minimum services in case of a strike. The law is a part of the pro-business strategy of President Sarkozy, who vowed to "review the strike regulations" during his election campaign. The law comes into force on 1 January 2008.

Access to workplace: The employer's agreement is needed if external trade union representatives wish to visit a trade union organisation within the enterprise. Once a month, trade unions can call a meeting of all members or all employees on the enterprise territory, which has to take place outside working hours. According to case-law, distribution of trade union leaflets is allowed if it does not interfere with the normal functioning of the enterprise.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: Nicolas Sarkozy, who won the second round of presidential elections in May, has been very open about his intention to "rein in" trade unions and to "carry out pro-market reforms", which is often used as a euphemism for curbing social rights. Hundreds of thousands of employees took part in a November industrial action to protest against cuts in pay and social benefits. In the beginning of the year, the highly publicised case of the Renault-France research centre put the race for profit into the new perspective: three suicides took place in just six months' time frame, as employees were pressed to the extreme to meet targets and deadlines. Similar tragedies took place in other companies throughout the year. In May the health insurance and social security agency made an unprecedented decision recognising one of the suicides as an occupational accident.

Subtle pressure: Obstacles to trade union activities take place. Employers use subtle tactics such as dividing enterprises into smaller units or outsourcing to dilute trade union density and to inhibit the contacts between trade union delegates and workers. Access to work for external trade union representatives can be a problem. Different manoeuvres are used to avoid genuine collective bargaining, including negotiations with nonrepresentative trade unions.

Interference: According to the ITUC-affiliated Democratic Confederation on Labour (CFDT), there are cases of employers' intervention into trade union elections. Another ITUC affiliate, the General Workers' Central (CGT), reports that anti-union propaganda is a problem, especially in large enterprises, where trade unions are slandered in the company intranet, and unions were also attacked in the media.

Discrimination: Trade union activists may face discrimination with disciplinary sanctions being applied or their careers brought to a halt. Pressure intensifies during collective disputes. For example, the strike movement affecting some 80% of supermarket workers prompted the Leclerc and Carrefour groups to lay off trade union activists and workers' delegates. The need to organise judicial defence of workers' representatives has naturally slowed down trade union mobilisation.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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