Is France adopting ‘Flexsecurity’ ?

Article published on Jan. 31, 2008
Article published on Jan. 31, 2008
Praised in Brussels and already applied in North European countries, flexsecurity should appear soon in France. An agreement between trade union and employers has been agreed after four months of negotiations.

The ongoing talks between welfare actors on the reform of the labour market are about to succeed. Trade Unions (FO, CGT, CFE-CGC, CFTC, CFDT) and employers unions (MEDEF, CGPME, UPA) seem to have found common ground. The first announcements concerning details of the agreement confirm a move along the lines of the recent European trend of flexsecurity.

 The Lisbon Agenda

Flexsecurity is put to the forefront by European institutions as they see it as a means to accommodate globalisation in accordance with the Lisbon Strategy. Set out in 2000, it aims at making the European Union the most competitive economic area in the world.

Northern European countries have created the flexsecurity concept in the 90s when they began to reform their labour markets. Danemark is often cited as an example.

The flexibility side

The French reform sets out to make trial periods longer. They would last from one to two months for workers and employees, two to three months for ‘salariés de maitrise’ with higher degrees of responsibility and three to four months for ‘cadres’ (translation note: a loose term defining executives with a high degree of responsibility). It would only be possible to renew it once.

In the meantime, a new fixed term contract would be created, lasting between 18 and 36 months, only available for ‘cadres’ and engineers. It would be strictly monitored, only used to achieve specific missions.

Subject to controversy, the mutually agreed termination of an unfixed term contract (CDI) would be accepted by Trade Unions if, as a safety net, it is accompanied with an obligation to send it in two weeks to the departmental direction of labour for validation.

The security side

In exchange for these concessions, Trade unions have obtained the increase indemnities for termination of contract after a year of employment as well as the right to transfer some of their rights (training, supplementary health insurance and pension schemes) from one company to the next in case employees lose their jobs.

“Thriving countries”

On January 17, four Trade unions out of five had signed the agreement. Only the CGT announced it would not sign it. It reckons that the reform will only increase the worker’s precarious situation; this flexsecurity being so to speak a flexsecurity without security…

It should be voted however without amendements neither from the governments or MPs right after the French local mayor elections of march 2008. It should then be in force from the second semester of 2008 onwards.

Hearing about these results, François Fillon, the French Prime minister has declared that France would soon join “the club of European countries which have implemented flexsecurity and are thriving”.

However, France wil not change its standards, the unfixed term contract (CDI) remains the rule. The Trade union FO has welcomed this move:” unlike European wishes of flexsecurity, the CDI remains the rule (…) and every termination of contract must be based on a serious and real ground.”

As to Xavier Bertrand, the minister of Labour, he does not plan to revamp the text even though it is less ambitious than what the government had planned at first. “If they have found an agreement and have signed it massively, I do not wish, myself as a minister of labour to break or change this agreement.”