Monday, September 11, 2017
As reported by the Los Angeles Times and others, the no. two economy in the Eurozone - France - may see its notoriously worker-friendly labor laws overhauled in favor of fewer restrictions soon.
One key measure proposed by the government trims the role of unions, notably in small- and medium-size companies — which the prime minister said make up nine out of 10 companies in France. Under the reforms, companies with fewer than 50 employees would be able to negotiate work rules with an elected colleague — not unionized — and companies with fewer than 20 employees can negotiate directly with their workers.
Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud said the reforms aim to not just change France's work rules but "to change the behavior of social dialogue in our country."
Whether this will be a favorable turn of events for France on the national and international business stage remains to be seen. For workers, however, "negotiating directly" with employers sounds an awful lot like the very unequal bargaining powers so frequently seen in the USA. Here, such contractual bargaining and conditions have not resulted in improved incomes for the middle and lower classes, although other factors of course also weigh in. Nonetheless, it is a basic tenet of contract law - and thus employment law - that one can only strike the bargain that one has leverage to strike. Trade unions and labor regulations can contribute significantly and importantly to an otherwise very skewed bargaining situation, especially in times and locations of unemployment and for older workers.
But of course, France should do something to improve its equally notorious unemployment rate, currently at 10%. The work environment in Europe is still so much more relaxed than in the USA that it is doubtful whether any employer would seriously expect workers to amass the very high amount of hours worked by Americans or the very few weeks of vacation. Hence, a social dialogue may be what it takes in France.