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Contested Labour Law Reforms and Attacks on Workers' Rights in France

Last month, thousands of protesters marched in France against President Emmanuel Macron's contested labour law reforms and their dramatic consequences for workers’ rights. We asked Denys Fouqueray from SFA, the French performers’ Union (and FIA Vice-President), to tell us about the current situation.

On the 23rd of September 2017, the President of French Republic directly enacted a certain number of measures, radically changing the spirit of the French Labour Code, with no democratic debate within the Parliament.

The aim of this counter-reform is to do away with as many as possible of the guarantees given to employees, in order to better protect business. Thus the labour code is no longer the primary foundation, serving to guarantee workers’ rights and neither can the collective agreements still be considered as such, on a certain number of questions. Eleven key themes are supposed to remain the prerogative of branch agreements, such as, for example, minimum wages; social insurance for health and social protection; work related accidents; social partner supported training funds; support funds for social dialogue; gender equality and the duration of trial periods. All other subjects may be addressed through a company level agreement and derogate from the branch agreement. This could be the case for organisation of work and working time; wage structure … and even maternity leave! Furthermore, the company-level agreement is accorded such importance that a new agreement may even call existing individual contracts into question. Thus, an employee who refuses to accept a new contract, arising from a new company-level agreement, may find himself/herself dismissed without further due process.

The bargaining conditions of these company-level agreements are unacceptable in the majority of cases. Thus, in micro enterprises (fewer than 20 employees), which are the majority in the Live Performance sector, the employers will no longer be required to negotiate with anyone at all. Out with the unions! They may simply, unilaterally, propose changes to the company-level “agreement” and if these are approved by a two thirds majority of employees, they will become applicable.

For bigger companies, the number of workers’ representatives will be reduced considerably due to the fusion of various representative forums and positions (workers’ delegates, trade union delegates, works council, health and safety and working conditions committee). The new measures deprive these bodies of resources and saps their capacity to impact on the functioning of companies and to protect the interests of workers. Social democracy is swept aside, the rights and security of workers trampled underfoot and the capacity to act of trade unions is considerably reduced.

The government has made it clear: “This will not be enough.” It also has unemployment benefit, continuous professional development, pensions etc. within its sights. Clearly, we have every reason to fear that the special unemployment system for intermittently employed artists and technicians will disappear. And when may we expect social security itself to be called into question? The process has already begun.

All of this is taking place in a context of unprecedented budgetary cuts – 50 million euro cut from the budget of the Ministry of Culture and the announcement of a further 80 million to be cut from the public budget for the audiovisual sector.

Furthermore, this calling into question of trade union prerogatives is going hand in hand with the voting of a new law to reinforce domestic security in the name of the fight against terrorism. Once adopted by parliament, this law will serve to legalize a certain number of practices that severely curtail freedom, which were put in place during the State of Emergency, and of which a number of trade union leaders and activists have already fallen foul. Thus the police will be granted the power, without any further judicial procedure, to oblige a person to live within a given perimeter, to forbid them to appear in a certain place, to allow searches with a view to seizures in their domestic and family private sphere…The list of blows inflicted on civil rights is a long one – to the extent that UN human rights experts have addressed the French government to criticise measures in a law that “threatens the enjoyment of the rights to freedom and personal security, the right to access to the legal justice system and the freedoms of movement, peaceful assembly and association.” Naturally trade unions too are in the line of fire in the face of such an attack on fundamental freedoms.

Yes, these are dark times in France, but trade unions continue to carry the flame of liberty, equality and fraternity. As regards the legal decrees, our confederation and others will challenge them in the Constitutional Court and, if need be, the European Court of Justice and the ILO, since certain measures contained in them run contrary to European directives and jurisprudence and to the International Labour Conventions. Let us hope that protesting and resisting will bring solidarity and the protection of workers to the forefront. And of course we do not forget that performers have a key role to play in this vital cause.