French unions reach agreement over 'flexicurity'

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Employers' and trade unions are set to agree a compromise over the modernisation of the labour market in France, paving the way towards a distinctive 'French approach' to the Danish 'flexicurity' model. EurActiv France reports.  

After four months of negotiations between social partners regarding the modernisation of the labour market, the major employers' unions reached a compromise with the trade unions on 11 January 2008. 

Employers were represented in the negotiations by MEDEF, CGPME and UPA, whereas trade unions Force Ouvrière, CGT, CFE-CGC, CFTC and CFDT took part on behalf of employees. 

The agreement, which must be formally accepted by a majority of unions in order to enter into force, gives employers and employees the opportunity to mutually agree to break long-term, open-ended contracts. In such cases, the breaking of the contract must be validated by the employer within a fortnight. 

Moreover, the text of the agreement provides for new fixed-term contracts for managers and engineers carrying out specified tasks, valid for a period of 18 to 36 months. 

The text also provides for an extension of trial periods – renewable once – from one month to two for blue-collar workers and three months to four for those in management. 

The unions agreed to increase severance pay for salaried employees who have been working with a company for over a year, and gave them the opportunity to transfer various rights between jobs, including training, health insurance and contingency funds. 

The French trade unions Force Ouvrière, CFTC and CFE-CGC approved the agreement on 14 January, while the CFDT is expected to follow suit on 17 January. 

Positions: 

Following the agreement, French Prime Minister François Fillon said legislation would soon be put before Parliament that would put France "among the group of European countries who have chosen ‘flexicurity’ and are set to benefit from it". 

French Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand said that if a large number of unions had managed to reach and sign an agreement, then he would not, as labour minister, seek to "break or change" that agreement. 

Most trade unions supported the agreement. Jacques Voisin, the president of CFTC, said it "makes a number of advances", adding that his union had decided to sign it because it was "the first step towards safeguarding career paths." 

Jean-Claude Mailly, secretary general of Force Ouvrière, said the agreement was "balanced and gave employees extra rights". 

The CGT pronounced itself against the agreement, citing "imbalances" in favour of employers, but cannot prevent its entry into force alone. 

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