French jobless sue job centre for failing them

A group of angry jobseekers in France are aiming to make history as they prepare to sue the country's employment agency. Their grievance? The job centre failed to do enough to find them work and they are demanding €1.8 million in damages.

French jobless sue job centre for failing them
A Pôle Emploi sign offers the chance of recruitment. For one group of jobseekers, the job centre failed them, so they are suing them for up to €300,000 each. Photo: The Local

Who is to blame when it comes to unemployment in France?

While opposition parties blame Socialist government policies for the consecutive rises in the number of jobless, and the government blames the Europe-wide financial crisis, one group of jobseekers in Paris is pinning responsibility for the fact they are unemployed entirely on their local job centre – the Pôle Emploi.

And they want compensation.

According to the six complainants, their local job centre hasn’t done enough to support their job hunt, and they are set to launch legal proceedings at the end of the week. They are demanding up to €300,000 in damages each, French TV TF1 reported on Tuesday.

In a first for France, the jobseekers claim that the Pôle Emploi violated its obligation to provide them proper help in searching for employment, and also failed to give the jobseekers the training they needed.

Florent Hennequin, one of the group’s lawyers, told AFP they hadn’t settled on the amount of damages they would be seeking, but that the figure could well reach €300,000 per person.

One member of the dissatisfied group is a 54-year-old former executive who now delivers newspapers.

After signing on at a branch in the Paris suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux in February 2009, he was given just three meetings with Pôle Emploi agents, despite his repeated requests, and in three years didn’t receive a single job offer.

Last September, an administrative tribunal in Paris sided with him and ordered the Pôle Emploi to respect their obligations by meeting him within eight days, and then on a regular basis.

However, in October the Conseil d’Etat (France’s highest administrative court), ruled the jobseeker’s case couldn’t continue as an emergency proceeding.

“Now we’re using the normal judicial route, with an appeal for compensation from Pôle Emploi,” said Hennequin, one of the group’s lawyers.

A delegation from the CGT union, as well as lawyers for the jobseekers, plan to present their request for compensation at the Paris headquarters of Pôle Emploi at 10am on Friday,

“In the event that they reject it or fail to respond, we will get the administrative tribunal involved,” the lawyer added.

With the number of unemployed in France reaching a record 3.22 million in April, the Pôle Emploi has been under increased pressure to help deal with the growing number of jobseekers.

In March, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced the creation of 2,000 new jobs at the Pôle Emploi to help deal with rising demand.

What do you think? Should you be allowed to sue your job centre if they don't find you a job?

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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.