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How the tightening of France's unemployment benefits could affect you

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How the tightening of France's unemployment benefits could affect you
Photo: AFP
16:36 CEST+02:00
For some years France has enjoyed the reputation of being generous with its unemployment system - but is the tide turning with the new range of measures announced on Tuesday?

The government has presented its draft proposals for toughening up the system around French unemployment benefits - both in terms of who is eligible and how much they get in payments.

Prime Minister Eduoard Philippe told French newspaper Le Parisian that the reforms aim to cut the number of unemployed people by 250,000 and the benefits bill by €3.4 billion by the end of 2021.

France has a reputation for being generous with its benefits, largely because of the amount one can receive in monthly payments.

Unemployment benefits are calculated not as a flat rate, but as a percentage of the salary you were receiving at the time you lost your job (and therefore how much you have been paying in contributions into the system) up to a ceiling of €7,700 a month.

So if you were made redundant from a high flying job, you could end up getting several thousand euros a month in benefits.

The theory behind it is that if you have a few months out of work you can maintain your lifestyle on benefits until you find new job, and won't need to be making drastic changes like moving to a cheaper house or area and potentially forcing your children to change schools.

But if these new rules - which are only at the draft stage at the moment - are passed through the French parliament, some of that could be changing. 

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France's prime minister Edouard Philippe and labour minister Muriel Pénicaud announcing the proposals. Photo: AFP

So who gets it?

Eligibility is one of the major changes suggested. Previously you only needed to have been working for four months out of the previous 28 (or the previous 36 months if you are over 50) but it is proposed that regulation gets tighter so that only people who have worked for six months out of the last 24 months will be entitled to unemployment benefits.

There are also some extra protections planned for self-employed people and people who have resigned from their job, rather than being made redundant or come to the end of a fixed term contract. But be careful not to get sacked - having faute lourde (basically gross negligence) written anywhere on your severance documents is still likely to preclude you from being eligible for benefits.

In order to obtain benefits you will still need to be registered with the Pôle Emploi and be actively looking for work.

How much do they get?

The government says it will also be recalculating some rates to ensure that people in work are always better off than those out of work - under the current system it is sometimes possible for people alternating between short-term contracts and periods of unemployment to be better off than those working continuously.

The new base rate will be calculated against the average monthly salary, but can never be less than 65 percent of the average monthly salary.

The amount is also being cut in some quite specific areas. Anyone who had a gross working income of €4,500 or above will have their entitlement cut by 30 percent, but only after they have been employed for more than seven months. The cut will apply down to a 'floor' of €2,261 and does not apply to people aged 57 or over.

Although the big payouts are always the headline-grabbers, unions have pointed out that half of the 2.6 million people currently receiving unemployment benefit receive less than €860 a month.

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What about help to find another job?

More help will be provided. Although the benefits system is generous the French unemployment office - Pôle Emploi - didn't always have the best reputation at being helpful in finding new work, especially for people who worked in management or highly specialised sectors.

Now more than 1,000 new Pôle Emploi advisers will be recruited to set up new support services, Muriel Pénicaud, Minister of Labour, announced on Tuesday, thus putting an end to three years of downsizing of the public body.

From January 1st 2020, the Pôle Emploi advisers will also offer two half-days of intensive support to job seekers who so wish within the first four weeks following their registration with the job search organisation.
 
It will continue to offer free French classes to those who need them, which can be very helpful for Anglophone jobseekers who need to brush up their French.
 
Anything else in the proposals?
 
Yes, the government is looking to crack down on employers who misuse temporary contracts (the contract a durée déterminée or CDD). Temporary six month or one year contracts are only supposed to be used in exceptional circumstances, and are not supposed to be repeatedly renewed. However because of the complexity of French employment law which makes it very difficult for bosses to sack workers or make them redundant, many employers have resorted to using a high level of workers on temporary contracts. 

The proposals name six sectors that will be subject to charges for using temporary contracts - they are; accommodation, food, agri-food, water and waste, plastics and wood and paper. The construction and health sectors are exempted from the charge, which amounts to €10 per CDD contract issued.

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