Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - France

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - France, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 23 October 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: 61,900,000
Capital: Paris
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

More laws curbing the right to strike and collective bargaining autonomy have been introduced. Anti-union discrimination takes place, but can be fought effectively in the courts.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association, collective bargaining and the right to strike are fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. 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.

As regards access to workplaces, 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.

Collective bargaining: Collective bargaining takes place at all levels (national, regional, cross-sectoral, sectoral, 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 the case of bodies financed primarily from public funds (such as social security agencies), the approval of the supervisory authority is needed for a collective agreement to come into force.

In 2004 the Labour Code was amended to introduce "derogation clauses" at the enterprise level, which significantly altered the relative importance of the bargaining levels. While enterprise-level agreements cannot be less favourable for workers than higher-level agreements in terms of minimum salaries, social security and some other provisions, a lot of other pay-related issues (such as 13th salary) are not exempt from that possibility. The broadened scope of enterprise-level agreements in this law also led to more derogation clauses. An employer can now push for an enterprise-level agreement that would take away workers' rights based on the relevant sectoral-level agreement. While the government proclaimed that derogation clauses were "an essential landmark in the history of collective bargaining", the ITUC-affiliated CGT Force Ouvrière trade union views it as a regressive measure.

The law of 20 August on renewing social democracy and working time reform introduced further flexibility at the expense of existing workers' rights. The working time regulations are no longer regarded as compulsory standards, but rather as "rules by default" applicable only where no collective agreement has been concluded. Companies are allowed to re-negotiate the 35-hour working week, the amount of overtime, rest periods and similar issues. The "majority agreement" (approved by trade unions that obtained a majority of workplace election votes) overrides higher-level collective agreements, even where the latter are more favourable for the employees.

Right to strike: As a constitutional right, strikes are subject to very little legal regulation. Certain rules have been developed through jurisprudence, such as the prohibition of go-slows, sit-ins and work-to-rule strikes.

In August 2007 the parliament adopted the Act respecting social dialogue and continuity of the public service in scheduled land-based passenger transport. Three articles are particularly controversial. Firstly, a worker must declare her/his participation in a strike at least 48 hours before it commences, otherwise s/he may face disciplinary action. Secondly, starting from the eight day of the work stoppage, workers can be asked to vote on the continuation of the strike, and this secret ballot can also be initiated by the employer. Thirdly, in the absence of an agreement scheduled to be signed before the end of year, the employer can unilaterally determine the minimum services in the event of a strike. The law is part of the pro-business strategy of President Sarkozy, who vowed to "review the strike regulations" during his election campaign. The ILO Committee of Experts has already criticised the law and asked the Government to bring it into line with Convention 87.

The law of 20 August extended the 48-hour notice rule to those employed in primary and secondary education. In addition, municipal authorities will have to accommodate pupils in kindergartens and primary schools affected by the strike.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Subtle pressure: Obstacles to trade union activities do exist. 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. Various manoeuvres are used to avoid genuine collective bargaining, including negotiations with non-representative trade unions.

Interference: According to the ITUC-affiliated Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT), there are cases of employers' intervention in trade union elections. Another ITUC affiliate, the General Workers' Confederation (CGT), reports that anti-union propaganda is a problem, especially in large enterprises.

Discrimination: The CGT reports that trade union leaders and activists are very frequently discriminated against, but unions bring the cases before courts. Trade union activists may face discrimination, with disciplinary sanctions applied or their careers being suspended. Pressure intensifies during collective disputes.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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