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How France is changing its unemployment benefits system

The French government began implementing reforms to unemployment benefits in July, but certain measures were delayed until October because of the pandemic. Here's what has already changed, and what will change in the future.

How France is changing its unemployment benefits system
Seasonal workers such as ski instructors could be impacted by the new rules. Photo: Olivier CHASSIGNOLE / AFP.

“In France, you must earn a better living by working than by staying at home, which is currently not always the case,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address on July 12th, during which he laid out his post-Covid economic recovery plan.

During his speech, he announced that changes to unemployment benefits would be “fully implemented” from October 1st. Elements of the reform had already come into effect on July 1st, but France’s Council of State had suspended additional changes to the way benefits are calculated.

READ ALSO Seven key things to know about French unemployment benefits

What has already changed

Two main elements of the reform were implemented in July.

The first is a bonus system for businesses in industries which use an excessive number of short-term contracts. Businesses will be monitored over the course of 12 months; at the end of that period, those which resorted to short-term contracts more than the industry average will see unemployment insurance contributions rise by up to 1 percent of their payroll, while those offering more long-term contracts will have to contribute less.

READ ALSO The perks and benefits that employees in France enjoy

This will apply to 21,000 businesses of 11 or more employees. However, companies such as hotels, cafés and restaurants, which have been hard hit by the health crisis, will not be included until next year.

The second measure affects those under the age of 57 who were earning more than €4,500 gross per month before they became unemployed. 

Unemployment benefits in France are paid as a percentage of your previous salary, not a flat rate, so people who were previously high earners get more.

Now those in the under 57 and €4,500 per month category will see their benefits fall by up to 30 percent after eight months of claiming unemployment allowance.

An employment office in Marseille, southern France. Photo: NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP.

What changes in October

The measure which the Council of State objected to in the short term, and which could be introduced on October 1st, concerns the way in which job-seekers’ allowances are calculated.

The payments will still be calculated as a percentage of previous earnings, but the formula used for that calculation will change.

Under the new system, it is the average monthly salary – meaning the monthly salary divided by the total number of days in the month – that will be used. Previously, calculations took only the number of days worked into consideration. The change is likely to result in lower benefits for people who have not been in constant employment.

The idea is to “fight against excessive recourse to short-term contracts,” labour minister Élisabeth Borne said in July. She said such contracts “have exploded by 250 percent in 15 years”.

READ ALSO ‘So many barriers since Brexit’: The French ski businesses no longer willing to hire Brits

But the Council of State, France’s highest administrative authority, ruled earlier this year that: “Uncertainties around the economic situation do not allow for implementing, at this moment, these new rules which are meant to support job stability by making benefits less attractive for workers alternating between short contracts and inactivity.”

In April, Unédic, an association with a key role in managing unemployment benefits, estimated that 1.15 million claimants would receive a reduced daily allowance, and that their income would fall by 17 percent on average. On the other hand, they said the average claimant would be entitled to 14 months of benefits instead of 11.

An artist sings above a banner reading “Withdrawal of the unemployment insurance reform” during a gathering of culture sector workers outside the National Choreographic Centre of Montpellier in April. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP.

The change is particularly likely to impact seasonal workers, such as ski resort employees, seasonal agricultural workers and tourism staff. The amount of benefits they receive will now take into account their average income, including the periods when they were not working.

However, to limit the negative impact, the rules stipulate that claimants’ entitlements should not fall by more than 43 percent compared to the previous system.

France’s largest workers’ unions came together earlier this year to bring the case before the Council of State. The CFDT at the time called the plans “a disgrace in the middle of an employment crisis” and the proposals sparked strikes in ski resorts in February 2020.

Future changes

The government is also hoping to modify who is eligible for unemployment benefits.

Under current rules, you need to have worked during four of the previous 24 months. This is set to be increased to a minimum of six months, meaning recent graduates who have only had access to temporary contracts could lose out – as well as recent arrivals in France – but that will not happen until the jobs market shows signs of long-term recovery.

Once those conditions are met, the fall in job-seekers’ allowance for those previously earning over €4,500 per month, as detailed above, will also take effect after six months of unemployment instead of eight.

It remains to be seen whether the economic situation will meet the criteria – including a long-term fall in unemployment rates – necessary for these measures to be introduced in October.

Once all of the measures have been fully implemented, Unédic estimates they will save the state €2.3 billion per year.

Unions and bosses will be invited to the Prime Minister’s Matignon residence on September 1st and 2nd for “a full examination” of upcoming social questions, including unemployment benefits.

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FOOD & DRINK

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With rising inflation and cost of living, many people in France are desperate to keep their grocery bill low. Here are a few tips for how to avoid paying too much for food, drink and other everyday items.

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With inflation ticking upward, we’ve seen prices rise, especially for things like fresh vegetables, meat, pasta and cooking oil. Even though inflation is affecting food prices less than energy prices, buying groceries is still a huge part of every household’s budget, and unfortunately things are set to keep getting more pricey. 

We’ve put together a list of a few ways you can save a few euro at the supermarket:

Figure out if you qualify for any government benefits

First things first, it is worth seeing whether you can qualify for any existing government assistance, like CAF. On top of this, the French government has promised to set up a food voucher of €50 per month for low-income households after the parliamentary elections in June. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to receive CAF payments in France

Compare store prices

Unfortunately, going to the closest supermarket is not always the most economical solution. If you prioritise grocery stores on the lower end of the price spectrum (and you’re willing to walk a bit further) you can save a lot of money. A helpful tool to find the cheapest store near you is the “Que Choisir” online interactive map (click here) that has listed 4,000 affordable stores in mainland France. 

Discount grocery stores, like Lidl and Aldi, are great options for saving a little extra at checkout. But if you must go to a pricier chain, like Monoprix for instance, try to buy Monoprix brand items – they’re typically a little less expensive than name brand foods.

Plan ahead to make the most out of discounts

If you go online ahead of heading to the grocery store, you can see which items will be discounted (“promotion”). If you cannot find this information online, you can always go to the store and ask for a catalogue of that week’s sales items.

Normally, this is something the cashier should have access to. With these discounts in mind, you can construct more affordable recipes. 

Franprix’s website, the ‘discounts’ page

Also, if you’re looking for cheaper recipes in general, you can always go to blogs and online recipe sites specialised in frugal shopping. If you want to try some French specific sites, you can test out “https://www.marmiton.org/” or “https://1repas1euro.com/recettes/

When it comes to discounts though, be careful about conditions involved (particularly when it comes to loyalty cards).

Sometimes these promotions promise a lot, but actually getting your money back might not be as simple as slashing a few cents at the checkout – you might need to send the coupon somewhere to get the discount, or wait for points to accumulate on your card.

That being said, you can optimise your discounts using several online sites that allow you to combine your loyalty cards (Fidme, Fidall, and Stocard). Other online coupon sites include Groupon, which allows you to make grouped purchases (therefore cheaper), and Coupon Network and Shopmium, which help you benefit from existing discounts. For cashback plans, you can look to websites such as Shopmium, iGraal, FidMarques and Quoty, which allow you to be reimbursed for a part of your expenses.

Make a list, set a budget… and stick to it

It might seem obvious, but when you go into the store, try to resist temptation. The best way to do this is to keep track (in real time) how much you are spending.

Some stores make this easier by allowing you to carry around a ‘self-scanner,’ this will help you to watch your bill go up as you shop. Another tip for this is to withdraw the exact amount of cash you expect to need for the essentials of your trip – obviously in order to do this, you’ll need to know the base prices of your essential items, so it will require a bit of planning ahead.

Buy (then freeze) soon-to-expire products

A consumer’s best friend and sure-fire way to decrease waste! Items coming up on their use-by-date tend to be discounted, so if you plan to purchase these foods and then immediately freeze them, you can significantly extend their shelf life.

Lots of supermarkets make this easier for you by dedicating entire shelves to “short shelf life” items that, according to Elodie Toustou, the head of the “Money” section of the magazine 60 Millions de consommateurs, opting for these foods will allow you to “pay three to four times less.”

Another great way to do this is to use applications like “Phénix” and “Too Good to Go.” These applications will allow you to set your geographic parameter and then click on food stores, restaurants, and bakeries in your area that are getting rid of “panniers” (sacks) of soon-to-be-expired foods. Lots of times these panniers cost only a couple euros.

The trick here is to plan ahead by arriving at the start of the allotted time (if the boulangerie on your corner is offering “Too Good To Go” bags from 11am to 2pm, try to get there as close to 11am as possible for the best items).

Re-consider markets and farmer’s stores

Contrary to popular belief, buying from farmers’ markets and grocers that sell predominantly local products actually can save you money, particularly if you are buying the seasonally relevant fruits and vegetables. Buying directly from a producer can also allow you to eliminate the margin taken by intermediaries. But be careful, this rule is not true all the time.

One way to benefit from cheaper prices at markets is to arrive as late as possible, when the merchants have started to pack up their products. This might allow you to benefit from lower prices or even free items, as they’ll be hoping to get rid of their remaining items.

Know what items are most impacted by inflation

Finally, as inflation continues to increase, try your best to monitor which foods are most impacted. If possible, it might be worth removing or limiting them from your diet – or looking for more affordable alternatives.

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