2- French Employment Law was born in the ninetieth century after the repeal of the legislation that outlawed the trade unions. The freedom of association afforded to the unions and the right to strike given to the employees put the employers under the permanent pressure to improve of the workers’ rights.
3- Today, the main features of the French employment are the following :
• Supremacy of the employment statutes : The role of the employment statutes is fundamental since they constitute the basis of the employment law. The statutes are grouped in the French Code of Labour and the Code of Social Security that count 3,000 pages each !
• Powerful labor administration : it is a very old French institution dating back from 1875. Unlike in some European countries (namely the UK), there are labor inspectors in France who have the power to come into the employers’ premises and to check the correct application of the French employment statutes. They can order the companies to take positive steps where they note a breach to the employers’ duties. They can draft a report and even forward it to the prosecutors for further criminal proceedings (sections L. 8112-1 of the French Code of Labour)
• Powerful employees’ representatives : they are three levels of employees’ representatives :
- employees’ delegates : every companies with a workforce of 11 employees minimum should elect employees’ delegates. Their main role is to present to the employer the individual or collective employees’ demands (sections L. 2312-1 of the French Code of Labour) ;
- works councils : a works council should be set up in each company of 50 employees minimum. The employer has to inform and consult this body in various economic and social situations (sections L. 2321-1 of the French Code of Labour) ;
- health and safety body : such body is mandatory in every companies of 50 employees minimum ; it is informed and consulted as to health and safety issues (sections L. 4611-1 of the French Code of Labour).
It should be noted that :
- the trade unions play a major in the elections of the employees’ representatives since the recognized unions have the monopoly to present candidates at the first round of the 2-round ballot ;
- the employees’ representatives cannot be dismissed nor made redundant without the approval of the labor inspector ;
- the employer can be criminally prosecuted where a failure to comply with the representatives’ duties is observed ;
• Powerful collective bargaining agreements : almost all sectors of the work industry are covered by collective bargaining agreements which all provisions are enforceable within the individual relationships between the employer and the employees. The collective bargaining agreements are negotiated by the employer and the trade unions (in some cases with the employees’ representatives). There are various sets of collective bargaining agreements (national, branch industry, local at the company level) – sections L. 2231-1 of the French Code of Labour.
• Powerful legislation of social security : such legislation comprises the employees’ and employers’ contributions to the scheme, the industrial accidents and diseases, the retirement and the employees’ benefits (life and health insurance). It should be noted that a specific tribunal is dedicated to decide these issues (sections L. 142-2 of the French Code of Social Security).
4- This brief overview of the French employment shows that this matter is heavily regulated by various statutes. However, it will be further seen that French employment does not lack flexibility, contrary to the usual conception.