Why workers’ rights in France remain strong - even in the face of Macron’s reforms

Why workers’ rights in France remain strong - even in the face of Macron’s reforms
By Chris Harris
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There is a nationwide strike in France today over plans to reform the country’s labour laws.

The proposals cover things like more flexibility in negotiating wages and contracts; making it easier for firms to dismiss staff; and streamlining workers’ committees within companies.

The idea is to make it easier and less costly for French firms to hire people, a bid to tackle the country’s stubborn unemployment levels.

Yet the country has some of the strongest labour laws in Europe.

Here are some of the protections unlikely to change even if Macron and his government get the changes through, according to Laure Joncour, a partner at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.

France’s famed 35-hour week

Macron’s reforms will allow firms to negotiate things like pay and working time directly with the employee concerned.

At the moment companies reach agreements on the issues with representatives of the employees, collectively.

Joncour said while theoretically, this could impact on the 35-hour week, in practice, it’s unlikely to have a big impact.

In any case, added the labour law expert, the idea that no-one in France works more than 35 hours a week is a myth.

For instance, it doesn’t apply to some senior management staff or employees who calculate their working time over several weeks or months, allowing them to do a few 48-hour weeks when it’s busy and easing off at other times.

Joncour said it was more the case that French employees are well-rewarded if they work over 35 hours, often via generous overtime payments or by recovering the time with extra days off.

Right to ignore work emails

Ever check or reply to your work messages before turning in for the night?

Well, in France, employees have the legal right to avoid job-related emails outside of working hours.

And it won’t be affected by Macron’s reforms.

The law, introduced at the start of this year, obliges companies with more than 50 workers to draw up a charter on when staff are meant to send or answer emails.

Joncour said the law was quite vague and the idea that it gives employees a high level of protection is misguided.

Laying off staff

One of the most controversial planks of the proposals is to cap the amount of money firms must pay employees in cases of unfair dismissal.

At present, there is only a minimum amount and the move is being seen as a further concession to companies.


There are also changes that could make it easier for firms to fire employees. At present, employers can sack staff for ‘economic reasons’ if they can prove the company is struggling financially on an international level. The reforms propose allowing firms to justify these dismissals based on their profits only in France.

But while the government takes away with one hand, it seemingly gives with the other: workers made redundant will get higher payouts.

Overall, however, Joncour said while employees may have some concern in this area, it should be remembered France’s bar is already quite high.

“French legislation is extremely protective for employees,” she told Euronews. “This has to be seen in this context.”

Generous holiday allowance

Much of France shuts down in August as employees hit the beaches to take full advantage of generous holiday allowances.


Macron is not proposing to change this.

The French are entitled to 30 days off a year and, if they work more than 35 hours a week, are likely to accrue extra holiday.

“It’s quite generous,” said Joncour. “Because on top of the holiday allowance we have around 10 bank holidays a year as well, although it varies from year to year.”

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