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The French are on strike again

  1. Mar 21, 2006 #1

    vanesch

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    Aarrgh!

    No matter how much I like living in this country, when they go on massive strike they make me nervous, those French, especially when you look at the reasons.

    France clearly has an problem of employment:
    http://www.insee.fr/fr/ffc/chifcle_fiche.asp?ref_id=NATCCF03302&tab_id=313

    and what is clear, and terrifying, is that the bad numbers come essentially from a single age category, namely people under 25 years.

    In France, you have 2 possible kinds of workers' contracts: finite duration and unlimited duration. Finite duration is a contract that links you and your employer for a certain period, maximum 2 years. After that, both of you are free. It is very difficult to fire someone within a finite-duration contract. A contract of unlimited duration is a contract to which the employee can put an end at any moment, but for which the employer has some difficulties putting an end to it. Apart from "serious error" from the part of the employee, the only way to lay down such an employee is through a "social plan" (for instance, restructuring the activity of the company, closing down a factory or department...) which does not target a single employee ; relatively high fees must then be paid to those laid off.

    It is for this reason that employers are a bit reluctant to give a contract of unlimited duration to youngsters (at least that's what's said):

    http://www.insee.fr/fr/ffc/chifcle_fiche.asp?ref_id=NATCCJ03230&tab_id=311

    Below 29 years, 63% of employed people have such a contract of unlimited duration, while it is rather around 80% for higher ages.

    So the French gouvernment proposed a new kind of contract: the "CPE", which is a contract limited to people below 26 years. It is essentially a contract of unlimited duration, but with a 2 years "trial" period during which there are not much formalities to lay off the employee. On the other hand, the contract foresees obligations for the employer to give professional training and facilities to follow courses and so on during these 2 years.
    The hope was to make the employers market more flexible, and to take away the reluctance of employers to take on youngsters and be stuck with them if they don't perform as expected, in order to decrease the high unemployment of youngsters under 26 years. Also the hope was, that, as the employer invests in the education of the youngster, he would be reluctant to use this contract as "kleenex worker", and rather keep a good employee he trained himself if he's performing all right.

    Well, the unions and students don't want this, and want this law to be retracted immediately. They are having demonstrations for a few weeks now, and next week, there will - for a change - be a general strike. They say that this is a way to please employers, and to kill off the possibility for youngsters to obtain a genuine contract of unlimited duration.

    No kidding: I signed my first contract of unlimited duration when I was 35 years old - though I've never been one day out of work!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 21, 2006 #2
    Wasn't there just recently a strike by the lazy government workers because a 40 hour work week was too much? :uhh:
     
  4. Mar 21, 2006 #3

    Pengwuino

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    They should be like American government workers and only work 20 hours a week.

    At least, that's what it seems like they do... :rolleyes:
     
  5. Mar 21, 2006 #4

    vanesch

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    Uh, no, since about 8 years, the official work week is 35 hours. There has been a massive strike one or two years ago because the gouvernment wanted to ALLOW employees who desired so, to work more, for higher pay, in a less restrictive way than was foreseen by law:

    http://www.travail.gouv.fr/informations-pratiques/fiches-pratiques/duree-du-travail/129.html

    You can do overwork, but this is restricted to 220 hours / year
    (and you cannot work for more than 48 hours a week).

    This used to be stricter, and these rules which are now in place have been contested seriously a few years ago (with strikes, demonstrations and all that). I have to say I don't remember whether the gouvernment gave in partially on that issue - I don't think they did.
     
  6. Mar 21, 2006 #5

    Pengwuino

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    You actually are restricted to how much you can work???
     
  7. Mar 21, 2006 #6

    Art

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    It was introduced primarily to combat unemployment. Apparently it was very successful.

    With regard to the new contracts whilst having a little sympathy with the gov'ts intentions I suspect they are wrong about the likely outcome.

    Apart from skilled jobs requiring a lot of training I think the result of this new law will be employers will turnover their employees every two years. New employees are cheaper than longer term ones and don't have the same perks that accumulate with length of service. Another potential serious issue for workers employed under the new contract is the lack of a permanent job contract would make it difficult for them to acquire bank loans and probably impossible to obtain mortgages.
     
  8. Mar 21, 2006 #7

    vanesch

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    As an employee, yes, if you want to be paid for it. Nobody stops you from staying until midnight at the office of course. But it cannot be an "official" and paid-for overtime.

    Of course, as a consultant, you do what you want!
     
  9. Mar 21, 2006 #8

    vanesch

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    This is interesting. They are exactly the arguments given by the unions: the fact that this will lead to "kleenex workers" who are tied to a vague promise of a permanent contract (and hence will probably work harder than someone on a finite duration contract who KNOWS that he'll be out after 2 years) ; the other issue is indeed the bank loan to buy a house or so which will probably not be granted on the basis of such a contract.

    The way the gov't wanted to counter this, was by obliging the employer, who wanted to write out such a contract, to invest in professional training for the (young) worker. This would motivate the employer to keep the employee in which he invested a lot of money for training and IF the employee is finally laid off, he didn't completely waste his time and received professional training.
    If the employer really wants a turn-over, he already HAS a solution, which are finite-duration contracts (and given the high unemployment amongst youngsters, he'll always find takers).

    I've seen some TV-debates over it: most employers seem to like this contract, because they are reluctant to take on a young employee without experience directly on a permanent contract - the permanent contract has only a trial period of 6 months, in which, say employers, it is difficult to judge the quality of a new employee given that he's usually still on training.

    Now, what shocks me is the intensity of the protest over it, and the fact that the trains will again not run next week. I don't think it is a miracle solution to anything, but I don't see why this shouldn't be given a try.
    After all, it's limited to 26 year olds!
     
  10. Mar 21, 2006 #9

    Hurkyl

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    All of the articles I've read on it said that the company doesn't need any reason whatsoever to fire the employee under the proposed law.

    Is that accurate, or just sensationalism?
     
  11. Mar 21, 2006 #10
    I was wondering if these contracts apply to every profession in France or just certain ones such as trades or manufacturing related jobs. The unions here in the US have seen a steady decline since Reagan was in office, in favor of privatization of the work-force. If it is that every worker, no matter what, has to be under contract, do you feel that is beneficial? If it only applies to certain sectors, do you see any trend in support of privatization gaining favor among the French populus?
     
  12. Mar 21, 2006 #11
    I did not realize the number was that high these days. :rofl:
     
  13. Mar 21, 2006 #12
    Yes, at first glance one wonders why other workers (not under 26-year-olds) would take this up as an issue. Here's my thoughts on this: if employers are able to hire younger workers and get rid of them relatively easily, this may affect the employment of older workers as well because employers will favour employing younger workers... In the fast food places in Australia, it is common practice to employ someone while they are at an age where they can be paid minimum wages and then get rid of them as soon as they pass the threshold age for this. This means that older workers don't get work in such places.

    Off topic for a moment: from the customer's point of view this can be quite annoying, as many places are run by really young and inexperienced managers who understand very little about 'customer service' - but because it's the same everywhere, there's little customers can do about it. Not that I buy much or regularly from fast food places - but on the odd occasion when I do, I get really irritated about this.
     
  14. Mar 21, 2006 #13

    vanesch

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    Yes, that's correct. In fact, this situation already exists during the first six months of permanent contract, called "trial period". You can be fired the next morning, without an explanation. Up to now, that period was limited to 6 months, and what this new contract proposes is to extend that period to two years, in return for some favors, like the duty, by the employer, to give you professional training - and some indemnity upon being fired which is proportional to the time you've been on the job.
     
  15. Mar 21, 2006 #14

    Gokul43201

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    If this were really a concern for customers, one would imagine they'd switch to places that retain a more experienced workforce. This would then force the places that hire only teenagers to rethink their strategy. No?
     
  16. Mar 21, 2006 #15

    vanesch

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    I have to say I don't understand what you are talking about. What do you mean by "privatisation of the work-force" ? Every worker an independent consultant ? Or do you mean: employees in the private sector ? Yes, of course it is about employees in the private sector. It is about the kind of workers' contract that is legally allowed between a private employer and an employee. Or, in the public sector, for that matter - although the public sector has of course the special "contract" of a state employee (which is essentially employed for life, unless he/she *really* does something very very bad). On the other hand, salaries are rather low.
    A recent survey showed that 75% of the youngsters wanted to become a state employee in France :bugeye:
     
  17. Mar 21, 2006 #16

    vanesch

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    This might be an issue. But the main problem that the government wants to be tackled, it the high rate of unemployment (25% !!) amongst less-than-26 years old.

    In fact, a similar contract has already been put in place: also a 2 year fired-next-day-without-an-explanation contract, but this time limited to businesses with less than 20 employees. Here the reasoning was that taking on a new employee for such a small business is an economic risk. Even if the employee is ok, it might be that the boss overestimated his business opportunities and could kill off his business by having hired a new employee for which it turns out, he doesn't have the means.
     
  18. Mar 21, 2006 #17
    Sorry if I wasn't clearer. What I mean by privatization of the workforce is where there is no collective bargaining contract between employees and employer. What I would call non-union. Of course we have trade unions such as the Teamsters, but membership here has been in steady decline. I don't know exactly how it is set up in France.
    when you say:
    It leads me to think that there are several different unions, like the US.
     
  19. Mar 21, 2006 #18

    Art

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    When we had high unemployment here in Ireland the gov't adopted a similar approach to the one proposed by the French under the guise of 'The flexible workforce'. Companies loved it but it was a disaster for workers.

    The way it worked was companies were allowed to take on temporary workers for up to 18 months on the understanding that the workers would be trained and that there were prospects of a permanent job at the end of it.

    The way it worked in practice was companies employed workers through agencies set up specifically to take advantage of this situation so the employee was employed by the agency not the company he worked for. The companies then introduced redundancy schemes to lay off permanent workers so they could take even greater advantage of the new cheap labor pool.

    This meant he/she was not entitled to holiday pay, overtime premiums, medical benefits, company pension schemes or any of the other benefits enjoyed by the companies permanent workforce. (They were known as 'yellow pack workers' after the cheap unbranded products retailers like Tesco sell).

    At the end of 18 months the employee would be laid off by the agency and then re-employed on a new 18 month contract.

    The agency as the employer was entitled to employment grants where training was provided and so each of their workers were told to sign a form saying they had received training (most of which consisted of 'sit with Nellie'). Presumably they could refuse to sign in which case I imagine they would be instantly unemployed.

    It is possible but by no means certain that this 'flexible workforce' helped Ireland's economic recovery but other factors such as low corporation tax were probably much greater contributors to the influx of investment capital.

    Eventually with close to full employment the competition for labor forced companies to rethink their strategies so these days the temporary contracts are largely limited to immigrant workers.

    The point is the French gov't may be starting out with good intentions but it is highly likely the system will be severely abused by employers as it was here in Ireland.
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2006
  20. Mar 21, 2006 #19
    It sounds to me like these plans are alot better than what we have here, though certain aspects would bother me.
    I guess that here the deterant to 'kleenex tissue' employees is that it really isn't at all cheaper to get rid of employees and just hire new ones. Most normal jobs here don't involve any contracts unless they are union. Usually, outside of unions, only rather high level jobs involve such contracts and they are negotiated by the employees themselves.
     
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