1. Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Organizations
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.
All trade unions (at the company, at the branch and at the national levels) have to demonstrate their representativeness by complying with new criteria.
2. Rights and Importance of Trade Unions
According to the French Labour Code, the exclusive purpose of a trade union is to protect the professional interests of its members. The most important prerogative of trade unions is the monopoly they have in negotiating and concluding collective agreements with the employers’ organizations.
3. Types of Representation
French employment law provides that, in companies with at least 50 employees, trade unions, which are representative within the company, may appoint union representatives among the employees of the company in order to represent them before the head of the company or establishment.
A trade union may also be represented, within a company, by a union section, which gathers the members of the same trade union and represents its material and moral interests at a company level.
4. Number of Representatives
The French the Labour Code provides that the number of union representatives a trade union can appoint varies from 1, for a company with a number of employees between 50 and 999, to 5, for a company with at least 9,999 employees.
5. Appointment of Representatives
In order to be appointed as union representative, an employee must be at least 18 years old, must be employed by the company for, in principle, at least one year, and must be in full possession of his civil rights.
The Labour Code requires the union representative to be appointed among the candidates in the last professional elections who obtained a minimum of 10% of the votes at the first round.
The trade union must notify the employer of the appointment, by registered letter with return receipt requested or hand-delivered letter against a signed release.
6. Tasks and Obligations of Representatives
The union representative represents its trade union vis-à-vis the employer, and may present claims to the employer in view of improving the employees’ working conditions (e.g., salary increases, additional days of vacation, time-off, etc.).
To perform their duties, union representatives are authorized to circulate freely within the company’s premises. They also benefit from paid time-off to perform their mission as employee representatives.
7. 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 organizes unions specifically for professional employees in management or executive positions.
8. Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies
Other types of employee representative bodies in France include:
a. Workers delegates
In any company employing at least 11 employees, representatives’ elections should be organized. The number of delegates to elect will vary according to the company’s headcount (their number vary from 1 or more) and they are elected for 4 years.
The delegates’ responsibilities include individually representing the employees and their complaints to the employer.
b. Works Council
The members of the Works Council are elected in companies of at least 50 employees. These representatives are elected for 4 years, along with the staff representatives. The number of representatives here again depends on the company’s headcount (their number varies from 3 to 15).
The Works Council ensures the collective voice of employees. It allows the inclusion of their interests in decisions concerning life in the company (management and economic and financial developments, work organization, training, production techniques).
c. Health and Safety Committee
In companies of at least 50 employees, a health and safety committee (CHSCT) must be implemented. It is composed of appointed employer and employee representatives. The number varies according to the company’s headcount (which varies from 3 to 9). To accomplish their mission, these officials receive delegation hours in function of the company’s headcount (between 2 and 20 hours a month).
The CHSCT contributes to the prevention and protection of the health and safety of employees in the company, participates in the improvement of their working conditions and ensures the employer’s compliance with legal obligations. The employer should consult and inform the CHSCT on a number of topics.