French government seeks furnace buyer

Steel giant ArcelorMittal brought down the axe on two idled blast furnaces in France on Monday after a long showdown with workers, but gave the government two months to find a buyer for the site which has become a symbol of French industrial decline.

French government seeks furnace buyer
Photo: ArcelorMittal

The fate of the furnaces has become a litmus test of Socialist President Francois Hollande's strategy for fighting rising unemployment and for his aim to raise the flagging competitiveness of French industry.

The closure also follows controversy, and bitterness among workers, over what were seen as assurances about activity and jobs when Mittal acquired the European Arcelor group.

The furnaces have been idle for 14 months and employ 629 of the 2,500 employees at the Florange plant in the Lorraine region of eastern France, the traditional centre of France's steel industry.

The statement put an end to a long period of limbo for the furnaces, saying that they would be closed for good.

The management's deadline of 60 days to the government also covered the company's coking plant which supplies another ArcelorMittal plant in Dunkirk.

But despite the announcement, the management said it planned to make heavy investments in the Florange site.

Saying the group "strongly believed" in the future of Lorraine, ArcelorMittal's vice-president for Europe Henri Blaffart said "we will continue to significantly invest" in the Florange plant.

Blaffart said in a telephone conference call that the firm had invested more than two billion euros in France in the past five years and €128 million in Florange since the ArcelorMittal group was created in 2006.

"We want Lorraine to become a centre of excellence for flat carbon sheets" mainly destined for the automobile industry," he said, adding that future investment in Florange would be "of a level to allow this site to fulfil its mission."

As the management announced its decision at the French headquarters in a Paris suburb, scores of workers picketed at the entrance to the Florange site.

"It's a crucial week, I am calling for mass mobilisation," said Edouard Martin, a local official from the leading CFDT union.

At the company headquarters, Walter Broccoli from the FO union urged the government to "nationalise the steel sector," asking Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg to "have a bit of courage."

Hollande met steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal last week to discuss the future of the plant amid reports the state was offering to buy the furnaces for a symbolic euro in the hope that it can find a firm willing to keep them working.

The Socialist government is planning legislation that will ban profitable firms from closing down a plant and shedding workers without first seeking another company to take over the business.

The law was an election pledge by Hollande, who is under growing pressure to deal with unemployment as he grapples with a €37 billion hole in public finances that he plans to plug with sweeping tax hikes and belt-tightening.

Figures released last week showed that unemployment had risen to just over three million people, equivalent to 10% of the workforce.

ArcelorMittal is the leading supplier of steel products in all major markets including automotive, construction, household appliances and packaging. It operates in 60 countries and employs about 260,000 people worldwide.

The firm has temporarily closed several sites in Europe, in France as well as Belgium and Spain. In 2009, the firm closed furnaces in Gandrange, also in eastern France due to falling global demand in steel and high production costs in Europe. 

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How to get a summer job in France

As the summer holidays approach in France, many employers are looking for seasonal workers - so if you're looking for a summer job, here's how to go about it.

How to get a summer job in France

There are thousands of employment offers in France – a simple internet search for jobs d’été came up with numerous jobs boards offering work in France, while the government-backed Centre d’Information et de Documentation pour la Jeunesse (CIDJ) offers advice and information on all aspects of life for young people in France, including finding seasonal work and summer placements.

Sectors including agriculture, hospitality and tourism are always recruiting in the summer, seeking fruit-pickers, holiday camp workers and serving/hotel staff.

But what are the rules for people seeking summer jobs?

READ ALSO Vendange: What you really sign up for when you agree to help with the French wine harvest


Children from the age of 16 (under certain circumstances, the age limit drops to 14) who are legally resident in France can work as long as they have written authorisation from their parents or legal guardians. A model authorisation letter is available here

Those under the age of 18 cannot undertake certain jobs for health and safety reasons.

In the following circumstances, children as young as 14 or 15 can work during school holidays.

  • The holidays must last at least 14 days;
  • The child must work no more than half the days of the holiday – so, if a vacation period is two weeks, they can work for no more than one of those weeks;
  • The child is given ‘light duties’ that offer no risk to their safety, health, or development;
  • From the age of 15 and if the child has completed their troisieme education, a minor can register for an apprenticeship. 


Salary is usually paid monthly and will have a payslip. For those aged 18 and over, pay will be at least equal to the minimum wage.

 For those aged 14 to 17, who have less than six months’ professional experience, the minimum allowed rate is 80 percent of the minimum wage. For those aged 17 to 18, the rate rises to a minimum of 90 percent of France’s minimum wage.

  • The minimum wage in France is currently €10.85 gross per hour (€1,645.58 gross per month based on a 35-hour week);
  • the employment contract is fixed-term and can take different forms (fixed-term contract, seasonal employment contract, temporary employment contract, etc);
  • Seasonal employees are subject to the same obligations as the other employees of the company and have access to the same benefits (canteens, breaks, etc.).

Under 18s have certain additional protections:

  • between the ages of 14 and 16, during school holidays, employees on any contract cannot work more than 35 hours per week nor more than 7 hours per day;
  • They cannot work at night;
  • Those aged 14 to under 16 working during their school holidays can only be assigned to work which is not likely to harm their safety, their health or development.

Right to work in France

If you’re a French citizen or hold permanent residency in France then you have the right to work, but for foreigners there are extra restrictions.

Anyone who holds the passport of a EU/EEA country or Switzerland, is free to work in France or to travel to France seeking work without needing a visa or work permit.

Most other people will need permission to work in France – even if it’s only for a short period or for casual work such as grape-picking. Depending on your country of origin you may need a visa – everything you need to know about that is here.

In addition to the visa, you may also need a work permit, which is the responsibility of the employer.  To employ anyone in France for less than 90 days, an employer must get a temporary work permit – before the prospective employee applies for a short stay visa. This permit is then sent to the embassy at which the employee is applying for a visa.

If you come from countries including the UK, USA and Canada you can spend up to 90 days in France without a visa – but you may still need a work (convention d’accueil) if you want to work while you are here.

READ ALSO Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in France

Certain countries have specific ‘seasonal worker’ visas on offer, for certain sectors which allows – for example – Canadians to come to France and work the ski season. 

Cash-in-hand jobs

Certain sectors which have a lot of casual workers – for example seasonal fruit-picking – do have cash-in-hand jobs, known in France as marché noir (black market) or simply travail au black (working on the black, or working illegally). 

This is of course illegal and working this way carries risks – as well as the possibility of losing your job if labour inspectors turn up you are also in a vulnerable position. If your employer suddenly decides not to pay you, or make unexpected deductions from your wages, there is very little you can do about it since you won’t have any kind of work contract.