Why the reform of the Labor Code caused uproar in France

Why the reform of the Labor Code caused uproar in France

In February, French Minister of Labor Myriam El Khomri proposed a legal text that would reform the labor culture in companies. Because of numerous protests and anger demonstrated by employees and trade unions, Prime Minister Manuel Valls suggested a second version of this text a month later.

Minister of Labor Myriam El Khomri asking questions to the government at the National Assembly, March 8. Credit: Alain Jocard/AFP

Minister of Labor Myriam El Khomri asking questions to the government at the National Assembly, March 8. Credit: Alain Jocard/AFP

In France, the Labor Code is a compendium of laws and regulations about labor law. It regulates an individual’s relationships (labor contract), collective relationships (collective negotiation, trade union, and others), employees’ health and security, and employment and vocational training.

The changes suggested to the Labor Code, compiled in the law, led to demonstrations and strikes that have been ongoing since March 9.

The reform addresses the aspects of rest periods, work hours, wage settlement and occupational health.

Some of the reforms suggested in the legal text are less paid overtime hours and additional ground for an economic layoff.

A 30-percent bonus for working additional hours was changed to a 10-percent minimum. In addition to cessation of activity and technological change, companies could fire employees because of economic difficulty.

Employees could be also paid less for the same number of working hours not only if their company experiences rough times, as the situation is now, but also if the company tries to get a new contract.

If an employee denies the modification of their employment contract, they could be fired not for an economic reason but for actual and serious basis, which would make their departure conditions much less advantageous.

Claims paid to unfairly dismissed employees will be capped, instead of being dependent on each case.

The “forfait jour” is a rule that requires the wage of an employee to depend on the number of working days in a year, rather than on the number of hours per day. This is already possible for a company employing more than 50 people, since executives benefit from work autonomy, but it could now be proposed in small enterprises.

This could lead to an adverse return for employees, since the agreement would be negotiated at the individual level between the employer and the employee. Hence, there is a risk that this reform will lead to a way to circumvent the 35 hours per week, as well as the pay of overtime hours.

The majority of trade unions ask for the removal of the reform of the Labor Code. Credit: Charles Platiau/Reuters

The majority of trade unions ask for the removal of the reform of the Labor Code. Credit: Charles Platiau/Reuters

A second version of the law had been written in March by Valls in order for the government to make sure that at least one of the trade unions will be on its side to support the reform. But this second version needs to show concessions made by the government if it aims to be accepted.

Trade unions do not want a ceiling amount of money to be paid to fired employees, but the government holds up for it. The latter could then add a step, the ceiling amount would depend on the seniority of the employees.

Trade unions also want at least the health of a company to be judged at a European level, in order to prevent employers from easily firing employees based on the hazy economic layoff.

Current employees are not the only ones concerned by this reform. Students denounce overtime hours almost not paid and fixed termination pay before trial. The general feeling during the demonstrations is anger mixed with determination: anger because, according to them, the government contributes to the difficult state of the CDI (permanent contract). The students are determined to protect their future.

Students Anouk, Margot, Raphaëlle and Iliana demonstrating, holding a sign in French that reads: "The youth on the street." Credit: Céline Boff/20 Minutes

Students Anouk, Margot, Raphaëlle and Iliana demonstrating, holding a sign in French that reads: "The youth on the street." Credit: Céline Boff/20 Minutes

“I hope to still have rights when I enter the working world,” a student in economy said.

“I am about to enter the labor force as one would enter a desert but I would like something else,” another student said, “I would like a world of work where employees and employers work hand in hand, negotiating in a balanced manner.”

Some say that this law should not have been ratified by the left wing, but by the right wing. “To put such a law in place, [President François] Hollande should have been a candidate for the right-wing party, not the left,” a 17-year-old student said.

This is also what the newspaper Les Echos wrote about, “A text that could have been – and should have been written by the right wing.”

On March 31, five trade unions (CFDT, CFE-CGC, CFTC, UNSA and FAGE) asked students and employees to come together so as to make their positions known and support them.

Nobody seems to be really sure of what the future holds for this reform.

Cover credit: Phillipmartin.info (full link)

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