French labour reforms: What’s actually going to change for workers in France

French president Emmanuel Macron signed his contentious labour reforms into law on Friday, but what will they actually change for those who work in France?

French labour reforms: What's actually going to change for workers in France
Photo: AFP

The reforms overhaul large parts of the 3,300-page labour code which details workers' rights, with some chapters dating back over a century.

What's in the new law?

The reforms will give small companies in particular more freedom to negotiate working conditions with their employees, rather than being bound by industry-wide collective agreements negotiated by trade unions, or the national labour code.

For example companies with less than 11 employees will be able to negotiate conditions directly with staff without having a union representative present. It's these kind of changes that worry unions, who believe ordinary employees are not sufficiently trained to negotiate with bosses.

While certain issues will still be decided on at industry-wide level, with the input of unions, companies will be able to thrash out agreements directly with staff over subjects such as, whether they get a 13th month salary, loyalty bonuses, how many days off a year to cover child sickness, the number of extra days off for maternity leave etc.

A cap has also been set on the amount of compensation awarded by industrial courts in cases of unfair dismissal — a key demand of bosses who complain that lengthy and costly court cases discourage them from hiring staff in the first place.

The payout will depend on how long the person has been employed for and will rise progressively. For example a member of staff wrongly sacked after two years can gain compensation worth three months salary and a worker with 30 years of service can receive a maximum of 20 months salary.

Workers will now have 12 months rather up to 24 months to lodge their application with the tribunal for compensation for wrongful dismissal.

Defiant Macron signs his contested labour reforms into law

This latter measure was one among several that were withdrawn from reforms implemented by Macron's Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande under intense pressure from the unions.

In a further concession to companies, multinationals whose French operations are struggling will find it easier to lay off staff — even if they are making profits in other countries — while workers made redundant will receive higher payouts.

Voluntary departures, known in France as “rupture conventionelles” which are agreed on by both the employee and the company, will also be extended. Currently they have to be done on an individual basis but in future companies can put through “collective ruptures”, which will not be classed as redundancies.

Workers leaving via a rupture conventionelle are eligible to claim unemployment benefit (chomage).

The reforms will also give workers more right to work from home if appropriate and give companies more say on how long and how many times temporary CDD contracts are renewed for.

A few changes, including a measure to streamline workers' committees, which are mandatory within large companies, will not take effect until the end of the year.


The benefits and perks of working in France

What do the unions say?

Philippe Martinez, the head of the most militant union, the CGT, has said the reforms give “full powers to employers” and has vowed to press ahead with a series of strikes and demos which began last week.

But the leaders of more moderate unions, including the CFDT — the biggest private-sector union — and the leftist Force Ouvriere have been more conciliatory and the CGT's street protests appear to be losing steam already.

“The future of trade unionism… is our presence within companies” rather than on the streets, the head of the CFDT, Laurent Berger, said Thursday protests organised by the CGT.

In parliament, the opposition to the changes is led by the radical France Unbowed party of leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon, which is planning a mass march in Paris on Saturday.

The right and centre-left parties in parliament have broadly backed the reforms.

What's at stake for Macron?

Macron resorted to executive orders — with the blessing of a parliament dominated by his Republic on the Move (LREM) party — in the hope of avoiding a repeat of the months-long, sometimes violent protests unleashed by Hollande's labour reforms last year.

But the changes come as the former investment banker's approval ratings have plunged, with recent polls showing that only around 40 percent of French voters are satisfied with his performance.

Protesters have seized upon Macron's dismissal of opponents to his reform as “slackers”, with slogans such as “Watch out, Macron, the slackers are in the street”.

The president is hoping the changes will incite companies to hire more, while also encouraging foreign investors who have long been put off by France's powerful unions and restrictive labour law.

The reform is also crucial to his wider plans for the European Union: he wants German cooperation in making institutional changes to the 28-member bloc.

He believes that improving French competitiveness is a necessary first step to build trust in Berlin and restart the Franco-German motor which has driven integration on the continent.

For members


Seven tips for selling your house in France

Unfortunately the prospect of Brexit and the falling value of the pound have forced some British home owners in France to wonder whether they can afford to keep their house in France. Here are seven things to know if you're thinking of selling up.

Seven tips for selling your house in France
Photo: AFP

Buying a house in France can be a tricky business, but so too can selling one.

Unfortunately the Brexit referendum result may make life in France unaffordable for some, thanks to the falling value of the pound.

And the strength of the pound against the euro may make some think now is the time to sell up.

David Hennessey, founder of ESREA France (English Speaking Real Estate Agents) has put together seven tips that are useful for those people considering selling their homes in France. 

He has previously written an advice article for those thinking about buying property in France.

Tip One

Do the Diagnostics

French law requires that owners of French property give to the property buyer a copy of the required diagnostic reports for review during the sale of the property.  However, quite a few owners I have met over the years want to wait till they have an offer in place from a buyer before investing the money in getting the full set of reports done. But this is a mistake.

It is a mistake because a visitor to a French property who asks about the condition of the electricity in a home is showing interest even before making an offer in price and if the owner or owner’s agent says ‘we have not done the reports’ the buyer tends to think ‘they are not serious sellers so I am wasting my time here or they are hiding something.’

The question in the buyer’s mind is why would a serious owner not pay the few hundred euros for the reports if they are looking for a sale involving many thousands of euros?

Remember owners the serious buyers will ask questions and you will want to have the answers on hand.

Tip Two

Get the Estimates Done

Once you have the diagnostics done it is important to do any important repairs needed. Otherwise French property buyers tend to see the cost to repair as much higher than it is and heavily discount the amount of an offer. If an owner does not get important repairs done the buyer thinks the seller is short of cash and is more desperate to sell.

Now if you really do not have cash available to fix the problems diagnosed then at least get a professional to give you an estimate on the work. Better yet, get 3 professional estimates that you can show to a potential buyer. This is important to prevent the buyer from overestimating the cost of repairs.

Tip three

Simulation de Finance

If you receive an offer from a buyer who will be getting financing to make the purchase of your French property ask the buyer or the buyers’ agent to show you a copy of their ‘simulation de finance’ This is a document that can be created by the buyer’s bank to show that the buyer has started the process of applying to get credit and that the bank is willing to work with them on the process up to a certain purchase amount. You want to make sure the buyer has the potential to buy your home and that your agreed sale does not die due the bank not approving the mortgage after you wait 45 days.

Tip four

Hiring an Agent

THree quick notes: look for a local specialist, look for an agent who can explain to you in detail how they arrived with the potential sale price of your property and look for an agent who will be available to show your property on weekends when most of the buyers want to visit properties. Traditionally, many French agents do not work on weekends. You want to make sure you have someone who does.

Tip five

Clear the Clutter

One of the most common experiences buyer’s talk about is that many of the properties they visit are packed with items and are too full to move around inside. The buyer thinks that a home is full of items because it has not enough storage when it is in fact because the owner has simply a lot of items. De-clutter your home by renting a storage locker. The less full a property is the more spacious and attractive it is to a buyer.

Tip six

Stage the Home

Research is showing again and again that a ‘staged’ property sells quicker for a higher price than a property that is up for sale in the same condition as it is all year round with the owners.

You need to create a fresh almost generic appearance to your home for most buyers to then visualize themselves in your home. If your home is personalized with photos and ‘your décor’ the buyer can only imagine you living in the home they are visiting and not themselves. They will then continue to look for a home that gives them the chance to see themselves inside. 

Tip seven

Borrow Furniture

Sometimes when sellers clear out the extra items from their home they decide that some of the larger items like furniture have to go in the recycling or at least in storage since they do not look so good. This can lead to some big open space in the home that may not create a nice ambiance and replacing them with the ideal staging furniture can be costly.

The solution we learned from staging experts is to borrow furniture from friends who can spare a table or two. If this is not possible, some staging companies even have furniture for rent or fake furniture that looks real.

Maximize the sale price of your French real estate by using the above tips and improve your chances even more by using more of the 50 tips we offer in our French real estate seller’s guide

Visit ESREA France to Find English speaking French real estate agents and French real estate information in English