Worker participation - France

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Klaus Kuhl, Ellen Schmitz-Felten, Kooperationsstelle Hamburg IFE GmbH, Germany


Introduction

France has a population of almost 65 million, a labour force of 27 million, and around 2.5 million companies. It is a highly industrialised country. There is, however, a traditional lack of mutual recognition between the social partners, and the state must frequently intervene. Such industrial-relations problems are worsened by the deteriorating status of the trade union movement. Nowadays, the traditional labour representation through unions is often superseded by other actors, such as non-union worker representation or protest groups [1].

The French OSH system is described in detail at: OSH system at national level - France, it includes several possibilities of worker participation. The fragmentation of the union movement and their weak position in SMEs, however, causes friction that also affects worker participation in general.


Regulatory framework for worker participation

This chapter explains the legal foundations of worker participation, whereas the following chapter 3 will describe the practice in France.

International level

At the international level, regulatory provisions on worker participation are contained in Article 19 and 20 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention C-155 on Occupational Safety and Health [2]. France has not ratified this convention. However, in an ILO report in 2009, it was noted that a group of 16 countries, including France, had discussions about possible ratification of the Convention [3].

Article 12 of the (non-binding) ILO Recommendation R-164 [4] describes more specific rights and options for workers and their representatives with respect to worker participation. Recommendation R-129 contains general provisions on communication between employers and workers [5].

European and national level

The European Directive 2002/14/EC (general framework for informing and consulting employees) [6] requires employers to inform and consult workers via the workers’ representatives in the company, in three specific areas:

  • the recent and probable development of the undertaking's or the establishment's activities and economic situation;
  • the situation, structure and probable development of employment and any anticipatory measures envisaged;
  • decisions likely to lead to substantial changes in work organisation or in contractual relations.

A few Member States, including France, have not yet transposed the directive, arguing that their existing national legislation already provides adequate protection. However, in a 2006 report, researchers from the European Trade Union institute ETUI-REHS noted that the domestic laws in question should have been amended to comply with certain provisions of the Directive. By way of example, they mention the obligation to consult with a view to reaching an agreement on decisions that may lead to significant changes in the organisation of labour. They concede that French law is already particularly exacting and precise on matters of information and consultation, but no obligation to reach an agreement is imposed, and this concerns almost all levels and issues [7].

The main legal source for worker information and consultation on OSH at the European level is the OSH Framework Directive 89/391/EEC [8]. Worker participation is a fundamental part of the OSH management framework promoted in this directive. In France, the Framework Directive was transposed by Law No. 91-1414 of 31 December 1991 [9] amending the Labour Code [10] and the Public Health Code [11].

Following the first Occupational Health Plan (Plan Santé au Travail, PST) for 2005-2009 [12], which aimed to reform France's occupational risk prevention system, the French Government adopted a second Occupational Health Plan (2010-2014, PST2) [13]. The approach to drawing up the second plan was largely participative. It not only involved the relevant government departments and agencies, but also the occupational safety and health (OSH) bodies and all of the social partners through the Working Conditions Advisory Board (Conseil d’Orientation sur les Conditions de Travail, COCT) [14] [15] [16] [17]. In 2015, the third national Occupational Health Plan (Plan santé au travail 2016- 2020, PST 3) has been adopted. [18]

The role of trade unions

There are five main trade union confederations, with membership across the entire economy. They are considered representative, which gives them the right to negotiate and sign agreements, to nominate candidates for elections, and to have seats on committees of some social security bodies, which are directed by the social partners. In accordance with a government decree of 31 May 1966, these confederations are [1]:

  • the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT),
  • the French Democratic Federation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT),
  • the General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail - Force Ouvrière, CGT-FO),
  • the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC), and
  • the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l’encadrement – confederation générale des cadres, CFE-CGC).

There are also other trade union confederations, which have significant influence, but do not have a representative status at national level. These so-called autonomous trade unions are [1]:

  • the National Federation of Independent Unions (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes, UNSA) (the more reformist union),
  • the Independent Union – Solidarity, Unity, Democracy (Solidaire, Unitaire, Démocratique, SUD) (the more radical union) and
  • the United Union Federation (Fédération syndicale unitaire, FSU) (essentially in the national education sector).

In 2008, the French parliament adopted the law “Renewing social democracy and working time reform” [1]. This law introduced new criteria such as independence and financial transparency for determining whether a union is representative at national, industry and company level. It requires a trade union to win at least 10% of the votes at company level to be considered representative (as indicated by the votes in the first round of the elections for the works council or employee delegates in smaller companies). To be considered representative at industry level, it must attain 8% of sector-level votes. 8% is also the baseline to be considered representative at national level. However, the votes to base these calculations are only those from the first round of elections, when only unions can nominate candidates. Only if less than half those eligible fail to vote for the union nominated candidates is there a second round in which non-union candidates can also stand [19].

The changes were based on a common position agreed by the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and the French Democratic Federation of Labour (CFDT) together with the employers’ associations. Additionally, in companies with 10 workers or fewer, where these structures do not exist, workers can vote for their favoured unions in regional elections every four years. This change was introduced in October 2010. Some companies have already held these elections, but in others they do not take place until 2013. In companies yet to hold new elections, existing rules continue to apply under which any union body that belongs to the five nationally representative unions is representative at company level [19].


Participation at national level

The Working Conditions Advisory Board (Conseil d’orientation sur les conditions de travail, COCT) determines the focus on matters of occupational safety and health. Set up by Decree No. 2008-1217 of 25 November 2008 [15], the COCT is a national body for consultation between social partners and public authorities, attached to the Minister for Labour. It participates in French national policy on protecting and promoting OSH and improving working conditions. It is chaired by the Minister for Labour, and is made up of members from ministerial departments, representatives of OSH bodies, workers, employers, and 15 qualified specialists [16] [17].


Collective agreements

In order to complete and develop the provisions of the Labour Code, social partners (notably at sector level) negotiate and sign collective agreements on employment, vocational training, working conditions, and social guarantees for workers. Agreements can also be made at national and company level. Sectoral bargaining only covers SMEs. Many larger companies have a company agreement. Regional-level bargaining is rare, but does happen in some economic sectors, such as metalworking and construction. These agreements make it possible to take into account the specific working conditions of different professions. The majority of such agreements are extended to all companies in a given sector by an Order of the Minister of Labour, usually based on advice from the National Commission for Collective Negotiation (Commission nationale de la négociation collective) [1] [20]. Employer organisations and trade unions are equally represented in this commission, advising the government on the application, interpretation and extension of collective agreements [21].

Unions and employers have played an important role in developing legislation on industrial relations, employment and training since 2007. When the government wishes to make changes in these areas, it must first consult with employers and unions, based on documented analysis of the situation, the aims and potential options. It should allow them, where possible, to reach an agreement. However, the government is not committed to accept such agreements [19].

Legislation introduced in 2004 and 2008 produced important changes in the rules for bargaining at all levels – national, industry and company. Previously, it was sufficient for just one representative union to sign for an agreement in order for it to be valid, but this is no longer the case [19].

National level agreements

At national level, agreements can only be signed by representative trade unions. Agreements will only be valid if they have been signed by a confederation or confederations with at least 30% support nationally, as demonstrated in works council and similar elections, and if they are not opposed by other confederations that together have majority support [19].

Sectoral level agreements

At sector level, the organisations that have negotiating rights on the union side are the industry federations of the nationally representative union confederations, together with other unions which have shown that they have a degree of support in the specific industry. An agreement will only be valid if it has been signed by unions with at least 30% support in the industry, based on works council and similar elections, and it is not opposed by unions with majority support [19].

Company level agreements

The 2004 'Fillon law' on social dialogue, named after the then minister of Social Affairs [22], allows company level agreements to diverge from the sector agreement in areas where this is not specifically prohibited by the industry agreement, with the exception of a number of key issues such as minimum pay rates [19].

At company or plant level, agreements can normally only be signed by the trade unions present in the workplace, as represented by the union delegate, or delegates. The 2008 legislation introduced a new requirement for the appointment of union delegates. They must now receive at least 10% of the votes as individuals in the first round of the works council or employee delegate elections – previously there had been no need for any specific level of support – and they must be nominated by a union which has at least 10% of the votes in these elections. The employer has to negotiate annually on several issues, where there is a trade union delegate – essentially companies with more than 50 employees – and in contrast to the obligation at sector level, this is backed up by penalties in case of non-compliance. However, there is no obligation to reach an agreement [19].

The 2004 legislation set new rules for company-level negotiations in companies without union delegates. In these cases, other representatives of the workers are able to negotiate and reach agreements. These rules only apply in sectors where a collective agreement reached by unions and employers at sector level is extended to cover all workers in the industry. Under these rules, the two sides agree the appropriate negotiating mechanisms for their industry. They decide, for example, the areas open for negotiation and the rules for ensuring that agreements have majority support. In the first instance, where it has been agreed that company level negotiations should proceed without union delegates, they should be undertaken by existing elected worker representatives, the works council, if there is one, or if not, the workers’ delegates (elected representatives of all workers). However, the agreements they sign must be endorsed by a joint employer-union commission for the industry. In companies with no elected representatives and no trade union delegate, individual workers can be mandated by unions to negotiate on specific issues. In such cases, the agreement must be endorsed by a majority of workers. Although the 2004 legislation changed the rules on mandating individual workers to negotiate on behalf of the union, this is not the first time the procedure has been used. At the time of the introduction of the 35-hour week, many of the company agreements on the reduction in working time were signed by mandated workers [19].

The 2008 law ‘renewing social democracy and working time reform’ [1] changed the rules further, and, from January 2010, similar processes can also be used for companies in sectors where the industry level agreement has not been extended to cover all employees. From January 2010, all companies with fewer than 200 employees, where there is no union delegate, can now reach agreements with either the existing workers’ representatives, or with specially mandated workers. The rules continue to apply on getting the agreement endorsed by a joint commission (when negotiated by employee delegates), or by a majority of the workforce (when negotiated by mandated employees)[19].

The 2008 legislation also introduced a new representative with a right to negotiate in some exceptional circumstances – a representative of the union section in the workplace, who is not a union delegate. This individual can be only nominated when the union concerned only has the support of fewer than 10% of the company’s workers. However, the right of the representative of the union grouping to negotiate is very limited and depends on there being no union delegate, and there being no legislation or agreement allowing existing employee delegates or specially mandated employees to negotiate. In any case, any agreement negotiated by a representative of the union grouping, must be supported by the majority of the workforce to be valid [19].

As at national and industry level, there are also rules at company level on the level of support unions must have before the agreements they have signed are valid. And these rules are similarly changing because of the 2008 legislation. However, at company level, the pace of change is faster [19].

In companies where there have been no works council elections since the 2008 legislation came into effect, the existing arrangements apply, i.e. a valid agreement must either have majority support, or it must not be opposed by the union organisations in the company that have majority support. Majority support can be demonstrated by either the support of unions that won a majority of votes in the most recent elections for works council or employee delegates, or by the support of the majority of employees in a ballot [19].

However, there are new rules for the large and growing number of companies which have held elections for works council or workers’ delegates since the 2008 legislation came into effect. These stipulate that a valid agreement can only be reached if it is signed by unions which have 30% support in the company, and not opposed by unions with majority support. The support in both cases is evidenced by the most recent election results for works councils or workers’ delegates [19].


Participation at sectoral level

Technical committees

The social dialogue at sectoral level is organised within national and regional committees (Comité Technique National, CTN; Comité Technique Régional, CTR). There are nine national technical committees, each representing a different industrial, trade, or services sector. Their activity is coordinated by the Occupational Accidents and Diseases Commission of the National Health Insurance Fund for Salaried Workers (CAT/MP, CNAMTS). Equally made up of employer and employee representatives, they are responsible for defining priority risk prevention campaigns in companies that fall within their specific sectors. They carry out studies on occupational hazards and relevant means of prevention, and develop national prevention recommendations [7] [23].


Participation at private and public establishment level

Co-determination

French law does not recognize any form of co-determination. At most, it attempts to promote worker representation in companies’ management or supervisory teams. There are two elements of participation: the consultation functions of the works council, and the stipulation of duty to bargain on particular matters within the company [24]. However, in certain state owned companies, board representation is provided for.


Board representation

In state-owned companies with between 200 and 1,000 employees, three seats on the board are reserved for workers’ representatives. In state-owned companies with more than 1,000 workers, one third of the board are workers’ representatives. In both cases, they are elected by the workers on the basis of nominations made by representative unions or at least 5% of the workers of the company (at least 100 in companies with 2,000 or more employees) [19].

In recently privatised companies, where the board has fewer than 15 members, workers should have three seats (two elected by all workers and one by worker shareholders). Where the board has 15 or more members, four seats are held by workers’ representatives (three elected by all workers and one by worker shareholders). However, it is important to note that there is no obligation on privatised companies to keep worker representatives at board level. The company can change its position through another resolution at a shareholders’ meeting [19].

Other companies can also choose voluntarily to have workers’ representatives on the board, although this is rare. The number of workers’ representatives in these companies is limited to a maximum of four (five in the case of listed companies). The number cannot exceed one third of the total of the other board members [19].

In all three cases, the position of a workers’ representative at board level cannot be combined with any other elected position, such as a member of the works council or a trade union representative. Workers’ representatives can also be present as board members representing worker shareholders. Where worker shareholders have at least 3% of the shares, at least one member representing worker shareholders is mandatory [19].

Finally, the law provides for two or four representatives of the works council (depending on the number of managers employed) to attend board meetings (or meetings of the supervisory board where this exists). Where there are already worker board members, only one works council representative has a right to attend. These works council representatives are not board members – for example they cannot vote. However, they can raise issues, and have the right to have their points answered. They also receive the same information as other board members [19].


Trade union sections, trade union delegates

Trade unions present in a company are normally able to set up trade union sections, which bring together their members at the workplace and have specific legal rights. In addition, provided they have sufficient support, unions can appoint trade union delegates (DS), who have a number of important rights (in companies with more than 50 employees). These union delegates have a role both within the union and on behalf of all employees [19]. However, under the new rules, individuals who are to be trade union delegates must themselves have the support of at least 10% of the workforce. There are exceptions to this rule in some circumstances, such as where the previous individual with this level of support has left the company. Unlike the workers delegate (who sees that existing rules and agreements are applied properly), the role of the trade union delegate is to improve the existing arrangements [19].

Since 1982, in enterprises with fewer than 50 employees, a workers’ (or workforce) delegate may be appointed to act simultaneously as a trade union delegate [25].

Unions that are not representative within the company do not have the right to provide a trade union delegate; rather, they may provide a representative of the trade union section (RSS), who has significantly fewer powers and rights [19].

Trade union delegates are entitled to move freely about the enterprise and to have paid time off to perform their functions. As workers representatives, they are protected by law against actions on the part of the employer likely to hinder the performance of these functions [26].

Where trade unions are present, they play a crucial coordinating role, and the trade union delegate is a key figure. However, because of the low level of union membership, many smaller companies operate without a trade union presence, and, in some cases, there is no employee representation at all [19].

In enterprises with more than 300 workers, an additional trade union delegate with a consultative capacity can be appointed (called union representative on the works council). In enterprises with fewer than 300 employees, the same employee performs both functions [27].


Works councils, workers’ (workforce) delegates

The representation of the whole of the workforce on most issues is provided by two separate elected bodies: the worker delegates (DP) and the works council (CE). Each have specific legal rights and duties, either at company level or at plant level. Works councils should, by law, be set up in all companies with at least 50 workers. The works council is a joint body. It is chaired by the employer or a representative of the employer, but the secretary is a member of the workforce elected at the first meeting of the works council by the other representatives. Representatives appointed by the trade unions, who act in a purely consultative capacity, may also be on the council [28]. In larger companies, a number of sub committees must be set up, covering: training (200 employees and above); housing (300 and above); and economic affairs (1,000 and above). The works council can also set up additional sub committees, if it so wishes. It should meet at least once a month [19]. Works councils are in charge of company welfare and cultural facilities [29].

The councils have certain rights regarding information and consultation. The consultation rights are more limited than the information rights. There is a general requirement for the employer to consult the works council in advance if measures are planned which significantly affect: the size and structure of the workforce, working time and conditions, training, new technology, and health and safety. The employer has to hear the opinion and arguments of the works council, but they are not bound, except for a few specific issues, such as medical service selection [19].

In cases where a company has several plants, each with their own works councils, a central company works council (CCE) should be set up to bring together the representatives from the plant works councils. In companies with several plants and more than 2,000 employees, the unions are also entitled to a central trade union delegate. Where there are several companies within a single group, a group works council should be established, covering all the subsidiaries and other companies controlled by the group. It must meet at least once a year, and primarily has information rights. Crucially, the members are chosen by the unions from the works council members on the basis of their support in the previous works council elections. Trade union delegates have no automatic right to sit on the group works council, but many companies have reached agreements which permit this [19].

Worker delegates or workforce delegates (délégués du personnel) can be elected in establishments with 11 or more workers. In companies with 11 to 49 workers, worker delegates represent the workers on all OSH issues, and perform the assignments normally incumbent on the CHSCT [30] [31]. The worker delegates are elected by all workers, and have to see that the existing rules and agreements are applied properly [19]. They have to present individual and collective grievances to management and bring to the attention of the Labour Inspectorate any complaints or comments in connection with the regulations for whose enforcement the Inspectorate is responsible. A very recent law invests the workforce delegate with the authority, in cases of infringement of the rights and freedoms of individuals, to request the employer to take corrective action and, should it then become necessary, to bring the matter before an industrial tribunal [32].

Normally the worker delegates and the works council are separate, though the same individuals can be elected to both. However, in companies with fewer than 200 employees, the employer can decide that the functions of the two bodies should be combined in a single common representative body (DUP) [19].


European level representation

European representatives from France – for both European Works Councils and European Company bodies – are appointed by the unions. The exception is board level representatives in a European Company, where the representative body decides how they should be chosen.


Health and safety committees

French Laws No. 82-1097 of 23 December 1982 [33], No. 91-1414 of 31 December 1991 [34], and No. 2003-699 of 30 July 2003 [35] define the status and the missions of the Health, Safety and Working Conditions Committee (Comité d’Hygiène, de Sécurité et des Conditions de Travail, CHSCT). All establishments with at least 50 employees are required to set up such a committee. The mission of the CHSCT is to contribute to protecting worker health and safety and to improving working conditions. The CHSCT is a body assigned to conducting technical examinations and investigations, in particular in the event of occupational accident or disease. It analyses occupational risks, proposes actions for improving working conditions, and checks to see that legislative and regulatory instructions and guidelines are complied with. Its scope of competence also includes environment protection, chemical and biological risks, mental health, and problems of stress and harassment [36] [37].

The CHSCT includes the establishment’s senior manager (who chairs it) or the senior manager's representative, and a staff delegation whose members are appointed by a commission made up of the elected members of the works council and the worker delegates. The CHSCT meets at least once per quarter. Its decisions are taken by majority vote of the members present. The occupational physician and the head of the safety department, when there is one, attend the CHSCT meetings and have consultative votes [38]. The committee has special means of access to information, and may take certain steps (such as the right to issue a notification of danger) without, however, possessing the authority to halt production. They also perform a major consultative role [39].

Undertakings with fewer than 50 workers may, likewise, get together on an occupational or inter-occupational basis in order to set up a CHSCT [19]. In companies with 11 to 49 workers, worker delegates represent the workers for all issues relating to occupational safety and health, and perform the assignments normally incumbent on the CHSCT [40] [41].

All individual workers have the right to voice their opinion and comments on employment and working conditions, the organization of work and the quality of production within their work unit and in the enterprise. This right was established by a Law of 1982. It is part of the movement to improve terms and conditions of employment and working conditions, but at the same time, because of its links with experiments using such techniques as quality circles and quality control, it is implicated in the evolvement of company management methods [42]. The exact form in which this right is organised is left to local negotiations with the unions, but might involve occasional meetings of groups of workers with their supervisors [19]. In order to describe the context within which employees are able to exercise their right of expression, the term shop-floor and departmental committee is used [43].


OSH and worker participation

As can be seen from the previous chapter, the French system of social dialogue and worker participation in the private and public sector is very complex. This chapter deals with the practical application of OSH.

Indirect participation

Trade unions

The trade union presence in the workplace is high in large companies, but very low in smaller ones. The highest trade union membership rates are found in the public sector. The overall trade union density (i.e. rate of organised workers) is very low, and had fallen to 8% in 2009 [1]. However, the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) notes that, despite low membership and division, French trade unions have strong support in elections for workers’ representatives and are able to mobilise French workers to great effect [19].

Where trade unions are present, they play a crucial coordinating role, and the trade union delegate is a key figure. However, because of the low level of union membership, many smaller companies operate without a trade union presence, and, in some cases, there is no employee representation at all [19].


National level

The social partners are involved in the management of certain social security provisions, such as public health insurance, unemployment benefits, and social welfare boards. The social partners also play a central role in the supplementary private health insurance system (mutuelles) and pension plans. They are involved in the system of vocational training.

The national system of policy concentration is complemented by tripartite social dialogue at the regional or local level. However, French business has increasingly criticised these forms of tripartism in the past decade. Consequently, Le Mouvement des entreprises de France (MEDEF) the main employer organisation, a multi-layered confederation of sector and territorial organisations, has developed a policy of selective disengagement and withdrawal from these joint steering roles [1].


Collective agreements

National level

Figures from the report on collective bargaining produced annually by the Ministry of Labour indicate that 53 national level agreements were struck in 2009, covering a wide range of issues, such as training, short-time working, and the impact of the financial crisis. Other issues covered recently include stress, the modernisation of the labour market, life-long learning, and dealing with occupational risks [19].


Sector level

Sectoral level bargaining is the most important level for collective bargaining, in terms of the number of employees covered. The report on collective bargaining shows that, in 2009, 1,108 industry-level agreements of various types were signed. However, only 421 of these dealt with pay increases, and, in some cases, there were several pay agreements linked to the same main agreement. Other subjects covered included bonuses, training, retirement, employment contracts and gender equality, financial participation, working time and a range of other working conditions [19].

One such example of an agreement is the national collective agreement covering companies producing crackers, biscuits, cereals, chocolate, confectionery, baby food and dietetic preparations for households, as well as desserts, ice creams, and sorbets [44]. Its purpose is to adopt provisions to promote OSH and continuously improve working conditions. The parties acknowledge that the preservation and improvement of health in the food industry is a priority for employers, employees and their representatives, and that joint action should improve the prevention of occupational risks. They emphasize particularly the prevention of MSDs. The parties agreed to conduct an active policy of prevention, improvement and monitoring of hygiene, safety and working conditions in all businesses.

The government also often extends the terms of an agreement, making it binding for all employers. Since 2006, more than 800 agreements have been extended in this way annually. The figure for 2009 was 831, though fewer than half of these (367) dealt with pay [19].

Company level

Figures from the annual report show that there were 28,185 company level agreements signed in 2009, 3.8% more than in 2008. Of these, the largest group dealt with pay and bonuses, followed by working time and employee financial participation. Figures from the French Directorate of Animation Research and Statistics (Direction de l'Animation de la Recherche et des Statistiques, DARES) indicated that of companies employing 10 or more, 16.8% of companies with 63.9% of workers, had taken part in negotiations at company level in 2008. Overall, formal collective bargaining coverage is very high, due to the obligation to negotiate and the fact that the government often extends the terms of industry level agreements to all employers. A study by DARES estimated collective bargaining coverage in the private sector at 97.7%% in 2004, with most (90.4%) being covered by sector level agreements. There are also 1.9% who are only covered by a company agreement, and 5.4% whose terms and conditions are set by legislation. Agreements mainly cover pay, and working time in the broad sense, but a significant number of such agreements now also relate to employment, vocational training and job classification [45].


Sectoral level, technical committees

The social dialogue at sectoral level is organised within national and regional committees (Comité Technique National, CTN; Comité Technique Régional, CTR). There are nine national technical committees, each representing a different industrial, trade or services sector. Their activity is coordinated by the Occupational Accidents and Diseases Commission of the National Health Insurance Fund for Salaried Workers (CAT/MP, CNAMTS). There are several technical committees in every French region, also composed of equal numbers of employer and worker representatives. Their number and scope of action depend on the regional economic activity, and their activity is matched to that of the relevant national technical committees. They play an important role as an interface between the CTN and companies relaying information, identifying good practices. and evaluating the application of national prevention recommendations [7] [23].


Company level

Board representation

In public sector enterprises, representatives elected by the workforce sit on the board of directors or supervisory board, usually accounting for one third of the members. In the private sector, French law leaves it to shareholders to decide whether or not worker members of the board should be appointed, and only a handful of examples exist. This form of worker participation is favoured by neither the employers nor the trade unions, with the exception of some Christian factions and bodies representing professional and managerial staff (‘cadres’) [46].


Trade union sections, trade union delegates

Trade unions present in a company are normally able to set up trade union sections, irrespective of the number of union members or employees, and because of the structure of French trade unionism, there are often several trade union sections in the same company [46].


Works councils, worker (workforce) delegates

In practice, the dividing line is very fine between consultation, which is the prerogative of the works council, and collective bargaining, which is the prerogative of the representative trade unions. Numerous agreements, formal or otherwise, are concluded between the head of an enterprise and the works council, and the courts accord these a certain legal force, at least as unilateral undertakings on the part of the employer [46].

The institution of works councils is seen as a counterweight to managerial dominance, but it also assists in productivity improvements. Furthermore, while it can be seen as a complement to union power, it is also viewed as a competitor [46].

Works councils should, by law, be set up in all companies with at least 50 employees. In practice, they exist in 81% of companies that should have them, according to DARES [47] [46].

The worker delegates are elected by all workers. They must see that existing rules and agreements are applied properly [19]. This is the most widespread form of employee representation in France. DARES figures show that 72% of all workplaces with more than 20 employees had these delegates in 2004-05. This figure rises to 87% in companies with 50 employees or more. Its legitimacy is very firmly founded, even though the powers and responsibilities of workforce delegates are limited in comparison with those of the works councils and trade union delegates [46].


Health and safety committees

A survey conducted in 2004 by Coutrot from DARES found that 72% of workplace with over 50 employees have a Health and Safety Committee, CHSCT. The main reason for not having one (despite it being a legal requirement) is a lack of people standing for election [48].

The presence of a CHSCT is closely tied to workplace size. Only 17% of workplaces with between 20 and 49 employees have a CHSCT. The main determinants of the existence and activity of a CHSCT (where activity is measured by the number of meetings) are company structure and workplace labour relations. Whether there is a CHSCT depends on management policies, but also on internal labour pressure. So, unionization is a key determinant of the existence of a CHSCT, which is further reinforced by the existence of labour unrest: CHSCT are present in only 29% of firms that have experienced no labour dispute in the 3 years prior to the survey (2002-2004), but in 44% of those that have had one dispute and 72% of those having had two or more disputes [48].

A study based on another survey showed that the presence of a CHSCT also depends on the existence and nature of workplace health and safety hazards. A CHSCT is more likely to be found in firms that operate shift work or night work, where work intensity is high, and where some workers are exposed to ionizing radiation, although there is no evidence of a link with chemical or physical hazards [48].

The 2005 French working conditions survey found that in workplaces with a health and safety committee (CHSCT), workers are at least twice as likely to report having been given information or training in health and safety in the previous 12 months. For example, when covered by a CHSCT, 29% of workers report having had some training on health and safety in the previous year, versus 9% of workers without a CHCST. Also, 57% of workers covered by a CHSCT reported having received written safety instructions, versus 25% of non-covered workers. Another indicator positively correlated with the presence of a CHSCT is the availability of protection against chemical and biological hazards: 67% of exposed workers covered by a CHSCT were provided with protection against chemical exposures, but only 57% of those with no CHSCT. Occupational doctors believe that CHSCTs improve the effectiveness of prevention. For example, the probability of occupational doctors assessing as positive the quality of prevention against chemical and biological risks increases by 20% where there is a workplace CHSCT [48].

Prevention at local level is organised with the participation of labour inspectors, (CRAM - Caisse Régionale d'Assurance Maladie, the French regional health insurance fund, and MSA - Mutualité Sociale Agricole, Agricultural social protection scheme, etc.) as well as inspectors from the DRIRE Direction Régionale de l'Industrie, de la Recherche et de l'Environnement – regional directorate for industry, research and the environment, and the union-linked prevention bodies (Emergences, CIDEOS, etc.) [19].


General

These structures are present in most medium and larger companies. Figures from DARES, for the period 2004-2005 show that in workplaces with 50 workers and more, 63% had at least one union delegate, 81% had a works council or a body combing the functions of works council and employee delegates (DUP), 87% had employee delegates or a DUP, and 72% had a health and safety committee. Among companies with 500 workers or more, all the percentages are above 95% [47] [46].


Direct participation

All individual workers have the right to voice their opinion and comments on employment and working conditions. Although this is an individual right, and its exercise as such is protected, such expression must be collective. It takes place at work-unit level, through the formation of groups called ‘groupes d'expression’, in accordance with arrangements defined by collective agreement. This guarantees a role for the unions, even though ETUI notes that some were or remain distrustful of direct expression by workers [46].


General evaluation

The legal system governing representativeness of unions establishes two routes for attributing representative status: (1) a representativeness which can be proven by criteria such as independence from employers, how long it has been in place, and its experience, and (2) based on criteria concerning membership numbers and electoral support. In addition, representative status can be established by a legal presumption of representativeness through a union's affiliation to one of the five trade union confederations. The authors of an EMIRE study [46] note that this latter method of attributing representative status established the supremacy of the five confederations and, at the same time, the structural division of French trade unionism. It may be judged that this division produced a fragmentation of representation (there are often several trade union sections in the same company) which, in turn, contributed to the weakness of the trade union movement and its integration into the political system [46].

A DARES report showed that in 2004-05, 70% of workplaces with more than 200 employees had two or more union delegates from different trade unions [49] [46]. The new rules on representation, as described above, could, in principle, encourage union mergers, as unions need to have a certain level of support to maintain their status. There were discussions at national level on a merger between the CFE-CGC and UNSA in 2008 and early 2009, but they failed to reach agreement. However, at company level there have been examples of trade union alliances, such as at the French railway company, SNCF, where in the elections for the works council in March 2009, FO and CFE-CGC put forward a joint list [19]. However, it remains to be seen whether the new rules will eventually lead to a fall in the number of companies with union delegates or reduce the number of union delegates from different unions in the same company [46]. The development of a stronger participation culture would certainly benefit the OSH situation in France.


References

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Links for further reading

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Worker representation and consultation on health and safety: An analysis of the findings of the European Survey of Enterprises on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER), 2012, Available at:[48]

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (undated). National focal points. Retrieved 7 March 2013, from: [49]

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Health and safety at work in SMEs: Strategies for employee information and consultation, 2010. Retrieved 25 November 2012, from: [50]

Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Social dialogue and working conditions, 2011. Retrieved 25 November 2012, from: [51]

Eurofound - European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Workplace employee representation in Europe, 2012. Retrieved 25 November 2012, from: [52]

ETUI Worker participation (2013). Workplace representation. Retrieved 7 March 2013, from: [53]

EU-OSHA – European Agency for the Safety and Health at Work, Worker participation practices: a review of EU-OSHA case studies, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2012. Available at: [54]

EC – European Commission, Employment and Social Affairs, Your social security rights in France. Available at: [55]

ADECRI – Protection sociale française, Social protection in France. Available at: [56]

Institut National de Recherche et de Sécurité la prévention des accidents du travail et des maladies professionnelle, Santé et sécurité au travail: qui fait quoi? (Safety and Health at the workplace - who does what?), priced publication, 2012. Retrieved 28 May 2013, from: [57]