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The perks and benefits that employees in France enjoy

The perks and benefits that employees in France enjoy
Being an employee in France has plenty of benefits. Photo: AFP
France has a bit of a reputation as a workers' paradise and while that is an exaggeration, there are still plenty of benefits that employees are entitled to.

There's a whole range of perks and extra rights that make France an attractive place to be an employee, although don't confuse that with being lazy – French workers generally come out pretty well in comparative productivity surveys.

But as France has mountains of special programmes, complex labour agreements and perplexing regulations and rules, it can be tough to understand which benefits (avantages sociaux) you are actually entitled to. 

A lot of French workers, especially in the private sector, actually don't benefit from the famous 35-hour week. Photo: AFP

1. RTT days 

The 35-hour week is probably France's most famous labour law, but it's also a bit more complicated in reality. In actual fact most French employees work more than 35 hours a week, the average is 39 hours, just under the European average of 40.3.

But if you work more than 35 hours a week bosses may have to compensate you for the extra hours worked, and this time back in lieu is known as Réduction du Temps de Travail or RTT days.

These are in addition to your usual paid holidays and are part of the reason why French workers are often able to take the whole of August off – public sector employees can get up to 34 RTT days a year (in addition to their 25 days of annual leave) and private sector employees can get up to 27 RTT days.

The bad news is that not everybody is entitled to this – certain professions, particularly in the private sector – have opted out and generally people in management or executive jobs do not get them.

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: Why France's 35-hour week is such a sacred cow

2. Subsidised travel

If you take public transport to and from work your employer may have to help cover the cost.

If you have an abonnement (monthly pass) for the bus, Metro, train, RER or tram you may be entitled to claim 50 percent of the cost of this back from your employer.

This is normally done automatically through your wages but in some companies you may have to apply separately. So make sure you go to HR and ask for the form to fill in. If you are freelance at a company then the chances of having your travel refunded may depend on the amount of hours you do.

3. Restaurant vouchers

Tickets restos or luncheon vouchers are often distributed to workers whose company does not have a subsidised canteen – in total around four million employees in France get them. 

The vouchers used to be paper but are now charged up on to smart phones or cards. 

In a bid to boost France's hard-hit restaurant sector, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has upped the daily limit on these – workers can now spend up to a maximum of €38 a day in restaurant vouchers, up from the previous limit of €19. For the rest of 2020, vouchers can also be used on weekends and public holidays.

4. Paid days off for weddings

Your French boss has to give you four days off when you get married and five days off if your spouse or child dies.

But you are also guaranteed a day off when you and your partner join in civil union (PACS).

And when that son or daughter, whose birth brought you 16 weeks of maternity leave if you are the mother or 11 days paternity leave for dads (unless you have twins in which case it's 18 days), gets hitched you are entitled to a day off to attend the wedding.  

READ ALSO These are the days off that French workers are entitled to

Mums are entitled to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave. Photo: AFP

5. Subsidised healthcare

The majority of medical costs in France are covered by the State under the assurance maladie system with your carte vitale but most treatments are only reimbursed to a certain percentage.

READ ALSO How the French carte vitale works and why you need one

To recoup the full amount, most people have top-up insurance known as a mutuelle and since 2016 companies have been obliged to pay at least half the cost of this.

Many companies pay the full cost and offer policies that cover partners and families as well as an extra perk, but 50 percent is the statutory minimum.

6. Guaranteed maternity leave

Your French boss has to give you 16 weeks of paid maternity leave. It generally breaks down as six weeks before the birth and ten weeks after. Though many expectant mothers get notes from their doctors to stop working earlier.

To qualify for paid maternity leave you must be registered with France’s social security system for at least ten months before you give birth. You must have worked at least 200 hours over the three months preceding.

Most companies pay your full salary while you are on maternity leave, but under the statutory regulations there is a ceiling, so if you are a very high earner you could see your salary drop. You cannot be fired while on maternity leave, either.

7. Guaranteed paternity leave

New dads are entitled to 11 consecutive days off, which includes weekends, following the birth of a child. If a family welcomes twins, the father gets 18 days off. In most cases the government is responsible for paying you during paternity leave, with similar caps placed on earnings, as is the case with maternity leave.

French workers are generally quite willing to fight any attempt to take away their rights. Photo: AFP

9. Employees council 

In bigger companies you might benefit from discounted cinema and performing arts tickets through your worker’s council (Comité d’entreprise). If your employer has more than 50 workers, elections must held to name people to the council. The council then, among other services, frequently offers cultural or travel offers to workers.

10. Minimum wage

Yes, France has a minimum wage (known as Salaire minimum de croissance but referred to by almost everyone simply as le SMIC), so make sure you are not being paid what you legally deserve. 

The level of this is regularly revised but it currently stands at €10.15 an hour for over 18s, €9.14 an hour for 17-year-olds and €8.12 an hour for under 16s.

11. Conventions collectif

The perks outlined above are those covered in law, although as explained not everybody gets all of them.

However most jobs are also covered by conventions collectif, which are collective bargaining agreements struck between employee representatives and companies, sectors or even whole professions, and these often include extra benefits such as more holiday, extended maternity leave or overtime payments.

If you are covered by one of these it will be listed on your payslip along with the name of the convention that covers you. These are all published so you can then go and look up what other nice perks little perks somebody has once negotiated on your behalf.

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  1. I have been trying to claim the pension I am entitled to after more than 20 years self-employed in France. I don’t agree my releve de carrier, but, lacking income after Brexit and Covid, I decided to claim my French pension and argue afterwards. Page after boring, ill-thought out, page of l’Assurance Retraite. Then – coup de grace – nationalite? britannique. Adresse? Next page heading: Royaume Uni! Can’t change it. Adding French address results in ‘anomalie’! Can anybody tell me how they have got over that … please?

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