Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Associations
The French trade union movement is one of the weakest in Europe in terms of headcount. Only 8% of employees are members of a trade union. Currently, the representative trade unions at national and interbranch level are the CGT, CFDT, CGT-FO, CFTC and the CFE-CGC (i.e. the trade union dedicated to managers and executives).
The largest employers’ federations in France are the MEDEF (“Movement of the French Companies”), which totals more than 750,000 member firms and the CGPME (“French small and medium sized employers’ organisation”), which represents the interests of 1,675,000 SMEs, registered in France.
Rights and Importance of Trade Unions
The most important prerogative of trade unions is the role they have in negotiating and concluding collective agreements with the employers’ organisations. It used to be a monopoly, but the Macron reform introduced other ways to negotiate collective agreements. This exclusive right explains the paradox of the French industrial relations system: a low unionisation rate around 8% and a very high rate of collective bargaining coverage, close to 98% of employees due to the extension’s mechanism of collective agreements and compulsory negotiations.
Employees’ Representation in Management
In principle, managers and executives have the opportunity to join the trade union of their choice. However, the CFE-CGC (The French Confederation of Management and the General Confederation of Executives), which is one of the five major French trade union confederations, gathers 140,000 members and organises unions specifically for professional employees in management or executive positions. If need be, the CFE-CGC is considered as representative only for executive employees and managers. Consequently, the CFE-CGC is entitled to negotiate a collective agreement that covers all categories of staff but cannot sign it on its own.
Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies
Currently, other types of employee representative bodies in France include:
Workers’ Delegates – In any company employing at least 11 employees, representatives’ elections should be organised. The delegates’ responsibilities include individually representing the employees and their complaints to the employer.
CSE – With the Macron reform, by January 1, 2020, all companies with at least 11 employees will have to put in place a CSE. The Macron Reform has significantly simplified staff representation in companies by merging the former three staff representative bodies into one. The Works Council, Staff Delegates, and Health and Safety Committee are now combined into the Social and Economic Committee: the CSE. Note that it will also be possible, subject to the existence of a collective agreement, instead of a CSE, to implement a Conseil d’entreprise. This body would basically have the same prerogatives as the CSE but would, in addition, be able to enter into and revise collective agreements, instead of trade Union delegates that would no longer exist.