All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Sarkozy's swine 'flu

pigs_cropImage by johnmuk via Flickr

While Sarkozy was holding his last cabinet meeting before the holidays and the second wave of holidaymakers prepare to assault the beaches, the Ministry of Labour issued a little circular, DGT 2009/16, giving guidance on measures to keep the economy functioning if the swine 'flu 'pandemic' worsens. Not the first thing on a holidaymaker's mind, you might think, just the ministry covering its' back when things go to pot later and fingers are being pointed.
Up to a point, Lord Copper.
A little holiday reading would be in order, I think.

The circular envisages measures to be put in place should the outbreak be classified as 5B or 6......which it is expected to be by September when the people responsible for so doing get back from the beaches. It supposes that, given the widespread absenteeism due to illness, industry and commerce will be severely affected and that as it is not in the national interest to let the economy suffer, extraordinary measures might need to be taken. All very reasonable, you might think, but what is the conclusion drawn by the Ministry of Labour?

That employers should be able to decide unilaterally whether to ask their workers to work longer or different hours or vary the work they perform to meet the needs of the company and that a refusal by the workers to meet these demands could qualify as an act involving instant dismissal.
Now, a circular does not have the force of is an aid to interpretation...but it will be interpreted by the agencies who dish out the permits to employers to vary their employee's working hours and conditions. The circular asks these agencies to show flexibility appropriate to the circumstances.
Let us look at a scenario....Madame X has arranged her family and working life so that she can take her child to the nursery at 8.00 a.m. and be at the office by 8.30 a.m. If, however, the needs of the business dictate, while the pandemic is rated at 5B or 6, her boss can demand that she comes in earlier, and if she cannot arrange things, well, she is running the risk of dismissal.
Not very likely, you might say? It depends. If Madame X is the member of one of the unions who run the French labour scene in an unseemly alliance with the employers' organisations, then no, it is not very likely. The unions are as yet untouchable.
As recent events have shown, a unionised workforce can kidnap and imprison the bosses, burn machinery and sequester equipment without a hand being raised to prevent them. The unions can still provide big turn outs on demonstrations, cripple public transport and menace the nation's food supplies. If in a unionised plant, Madame X will not be troubled.
If, however, Madame X is not so protected, then her risk will be much greater, and if with the economic downturn there are more Madame Xs employed than her employer thinks necessary, well, the 'flu pandemic is a heaven sent opportunity to get rid of some at minimum cost to the business.
The expats working in the jobs the French don't want might like to keep a wary eye open....with the unemployment levels the way they are, and Monsieur Darcos, the Minister of Labour, pessimistic about the future, the French might start wanting them again, so just be flexible.
Already, French businesses are trying to get round the rigid labour laws by hiring people on short term contracts, which may or may not be renewed, but this proposal opens the door to a new way of contracting the the name of supporting the economy in difficult times.
The French labour system is rotten to the core. Government workers until recently had guarenteed jobs for life...and about one in four workers work for the government. Sarkozy promised job reductions, but I don't see much action...government workers are unionised.
Once hired, the employer can kiss goodbye to firing a worker except in very special circumstances, nomatter how how things go in the business. Bribery is the only way.
Unions are not interested in jobs for all, just jobs for their boys....and girls...and in preserving their position of power. It all sounds so reminiscent of the pre Thatcher era in the U.K. with its stagnant economy and endless strikes.
The status quo is preserved by the high barriers to entry to business start-up. The assessment for social security charges before you have earned a sou is a deterrent to most, so people stay on benefit rather than try something for themselves. It is a waste of talent and energy.

Sarkozy offered reform of a sclerotic system. He is well into his presidency and so far the best he can do is to bring in a hole and corner measure like this under the cloak of the threat of swine 'flu. I think if he were to trust the people he would find many more on the side of reform than he seems to think, but, like all politicians, it seems, he trusts the people about as far as they trust him.

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  1. the french employment laws sound like a disaster... i haven't heard of any such pandemic contingency plans here in spain, but then the spanish government doesn't seem to have much of a plan in place for anything...

  2. What gets my goat is using a health risk to slip in backdoor remedies for a situation that needs to discussed properly and in depth. It has nothing to do with health, in my view, just a bit of spin by the government.

  3. Tell me about working for a French employer! I worked for a French company (non-unionised) when we first moved here. It became clear after about a year that the boss wanted to give my job to a member of her family so she just made my life more and more difficult, insisting on my coming in to work when my children were sick, stuff like that, until I had no choice but to resign, so no chomage, no redundancy pay. But hey, she employed her partner's son's fiancee almost before I was out of the door! Living in France reminds me of the days of Arthur Scargill and so far I've been disappointed with what Sarko has done VLiF

    Tee hee. Word verification was 'poodled'. Think that's what happened to me!

  4. VLiF,the contrast between unionised and non unionised life at work is dreadful. And, if you get problems in a non unionised plant, just try getting a lawyer to help you....not a chance, especially if you are a foreigner! I have Turkish friends who have had awful experiences.
    Wasn't there a book a few years ago...from someone in a job for life with EDF...describing how the short term contract people did all the work while the protected employees sat on their derrieres?
    Yes, I think you were poodled..French poodled.
    Lousy, isn't it?