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10. Trade Unions and Employers Associations

Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Associations

The French trade union movement is one of the weakest in Europe in terms of headcount. Only 8% of employees are members of a trade union.

Since a Law dated 20 August 2008, all the trade unions (at the company, at the branch and at the national levels) have to demonstrate their representativeness by complying with new criteria. In particular a minimum percentage of votes at the last professional elections (10% at the company’s level, 8% at the branch and national levels).

Currently, the representative trade unions at national and interbranch level are the CGT, CFDT, CGT-FO, CFTC and the CFE-CGC (i.e. the trade union dedicated to managers and executives).

The largest employers’ federations in France are the MEDEF (“Movement of the French Companies”), which totals more than 750,000 member firms and the CGPME (“French small and medium sized employers’ organisation”), which represents the interests of 1,675,000 SMEs, registered in France.

Rights and Importance of Trade Unions

According to Article L. 2131-1 of the French Labour Code, the exclusive purpose of a trade union is to protect the professional interests of its members.

The most important prerogative of trade unions is the role they have in negotiating and concluding collective agreements with the employers’ organisations. It used to be a monopoly, but the Macron reform introduced other ways to negotiate collective agreements.

This exclusive right explains the paradox of the French industrial relations system: a low unionisation rate around 8% and a very high rate of collective bargaining coverage, close to 98% of employees due to the extension’s mechanism of collective agreements and compulsory negotiations.

Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies

French employment law provides that, in companies with at least 50 employees, trade unions, which are representative within the company, may appoint union representatives (“délégués syndicaux”) among the employees of the company in order to represent them before the head of the company or establishment.

A trade union may also be represented, within a company, by a union section (“section syndicale”), which gathers the members of the same trade union and represents its material and moral interests at a company level. In particular, the union section is entitled to collect, on the company’s premises, the financial contributions made by the employees to the union and distribute its publications and leaflets on the company’s premises at the beginning or end of working hours.

Number of Representatives

The number of union representatives a trade union can appoint within the same company is based on the number of company’s employees. Article R.2143-2 of the French Labour Code provides that the number of union representatives a trade union can appoint varies from 1, for a company with a number of employees between 50 and 999, to 5, for a company with at least 9,999 employees. A collective agreement regularly concluded between the representative trade unions in the company and the employer can modify these terms and conditions.

Appointment of Representatives

In order to be appointed as union representative, an employee must be at least 18 years old, must be employed by the company for, in principle, at least one year, and must be in full possession of his civil rights.

Article L.2143-3 of the Labour Code requires the union representative to be appointed among the candidates in the last professional elections who obtained a minimum of 10% of the votes at the first round

The trade union must notify the employer of the appointment, by registered letter with return receipt requested or hand-delivered letter against a signed release. A copy of the letter must also be sent by the trade union to the Labour Inspector, and the appointment must be posted on the trade union notice boards.

The employer cannot interfere in the designation of a union representative, but may challenge it before the First Degree Civil Court (“Tribunal d’Instance”), within a maximum period of 15 days following the date of reception of the appointment letter sent by the trade union.

Tasks and Obligations of Representatives

The union representative represents its trade union vis-à-vis the employer, and may present claims to the employer in view of improving the employees’ working conditions (e.g., salary increases, additional days of vacation, time-off, etc.).

To perform their duties, union representatives are authorised to circulate freely within the company’s premises. They also benefit from paid time-off to perform their mission as employee representatives (10 hours per month in companies employing from 50 to 150 employees, 15 hours in companies employing from 151 to 499 employees, and 20 hours in companies employing more than 500 employees), which are granted in addition to the union section’s time-off hours and which can be exceeded in exceptional circumstances (such as a strike).

The most important prerogative of trade union representatives is the monopoly they have in negotiating and concluding in-house collective agreements with the employer. In principle, an in-house collective agreement cannot be validly concluded without being signed by union representatives (Article L. 2232-16 of the French Labour Code), even where the majority of the company’s employees favour such an agreement.

Employees’ Representation in Management

In principle, managers and executives have the opportunity to join the trade union of their choice.

However, the CFE-CGC (The French Confederation of Management and the General Confederation of Executives), which is one of the five major French trade union confederations, gathers 140,000 members and organises unions specifically for professional employees in management or executive positions. If need be, the CFE-CGC is considered as representative only for executive employees and managers. Consequently, the CFE-CGC is entitled to negotiate a collective agreement that covers all categories of staff but cannot sign it on its own.

Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies

The significant labour and employment law reform ushered in by the Macron government has completely overhauled the system of employee representative bodies. Below is the current, surviving situation that will entirely cease to exist by 1 January 2020 at the latest. The worker’s delegates, works council, and Health and Safety Committee will be replaced by and merged into the CSE.

Currently, other types of employee representative bodies in France include:

a. Workers’ Delegates

In any company employing at least 11 employees, representatives’ elections should be organised. The number of delegates to elect will vary according to the company’s headcount (their number vary from 1 or more) and they are elected for 4 years.

The delegates’ responsibilities include individually representing the employees and their complaints to the employer.

In that respect, the workers delegates have specific means, notably:

  • hours of delegation and travel (10 hours a month if the company has less than 50 employees, 15 hours a month if the company has at least 50 employees), which are considered and paid as working time;
  • specific office and posting board;
  • meetings with the employer (at least one a month), where questions and answers are recorded in a special register, available to all employees and the labour inspection.

b. Works Council

The members of the Works Council are elected in companies of at least 50 employees. These representatives are elected for 4 years, along with the staff representatives. The number of representatives here again depends on the company’s headcount (their number varies from 3 to 15).

The Works Council ensures the collective voice of employees. It allows the inclusion of their interests in decisions concerning life in the company (management and economic and financial developments, work organisation, training, production techniques).

It examines formula, or upon request of the employer, any proposal likely to improve:

  • working conditions, employment and vocational training for employees;
  • living conditions in the company;
  • and the conditions under which they benefit from group benefits additional social protection.

The Works Council is mandatorily consulted on certain issues, and the following three main themes must be addressed at least once a year:

  • strategic orientation of the company;
  • financial and economic situation of the company;
  • social policy of the company, working and employment conditions.


The Works Council is consulted or informed promptly of any plans for:

  • organisation and running of the business (business organisation, introduction of new technologies, restructuring and downsising, changes in economic or legal organisation of the company, takeover bid);
  • working conditions (for any specific problem arising from work organisation, technology, conditions of employment, the organisation of working time, skills and forms of remuneration);
  • a safeguard procedure, receivership or liquidation.

The Works Council also has a right to alert of economic and social matters within the company.

The Works Council also provides, controls or participates in the management of all social and cultural activities, which are established at the business to employees, their families and trainees. These social and cultural activities may include activities aimed at improving the conditions of well-being, activities related to leisure and sports, professional or educational institutions of order attached to the company, a health service established to work in the company, etc.

c. Health and Safety Committee

In companies of at least 50 employees, a health and safety committee (CHSCT) must be implemented. It is composed of appointed employer and employee representatives. The number varies according to the company’s headcount (which varies from 3 to 9). To accomplish their mission, these officials receive delegation hours in function of the company’s headcount (between 2 and 20 hours a month).

The CHSCT contributes to the prevention and protection of the health and safety of employees in the company, participates in the improvement of their working conditions and ensures the employer’s compliance with legal obligations. The employer should consult and inform the CHSCT on a number of topics. It is consulted in the following situations:

  • before major transformation of workstations from the change of tooling, a change in the product or the work organisation;
  • before changing speeds and productivity conditions;
  • on any major project of introduction and during the introduction of new technologies and their impact on the health and safety of employees;
  • on the adaptation plan established in case of implementation of significant and rapid technological change;
  • on measures taken to facilitate the development, delivery or maintenance work of injured workers, disabled people and disabled workers;
  • on the documents relating to its mission, including the company’s internal regulations.

The employer at least once a year informs the CHSCT:

  • with a written report taking stock of the general situation of health, safety and working conditions in the company. the report presents the activities carried out during the past year;
  • through an annual program of prevention of occupational risks and improve working conditions.

The employer must also make available to the CHSCT:

  • the single document of occupational risk assessment (DUERP);
  • reports and results of occupational medical studies on the business.

The CHSCT may call upon a registered expert, which fees are borne by the employer, in the following situations:

  • when a serious risk, proven or not by an accident at work, occupational or professional nature disease is found in the company;
  • in case of major project modifying the conditions of health and safety or working conditions.

The employer may oppose to having an expert appointed, in certain circumstances.

d. CSE

With the Macron reform, by 1 January 2020, all companies with at least 11 employees will have to put in place a CSE. The Macron Reform has significantly simplified staff representation in companies by merging the former three staff representative bodies into one. The Works Council, Workers’ Delegates, and Health and Safety Committee are now combined into the Social and Economic Committee: the CSE. It will also be possible, subject to the existence of a collective agreement, instead of a CSE, to implement a conseil d’entreprise. This body would basically have the same prerogatives as the CSE, but would, in addition, be able to enter into and revise collective agreements, instead of trade union delegates, which would no longer exist.


The minimum threshold for mandatory implementation is when the company employs at least 11 employees for 12 consecutive months. In principle, the CSE is set up at the end of the current mandate of the elected staff representatives, or at the renewal of one of these bodies.

In any case, the very latest for the implementation of the CSE is 31 December 2019.

The body has the same configuration, regardless of the size of the company. It must include a health, safety and working conditions commission in companies and separate establishments that have at least 300 employees.

The number of seats to the CSE vary in proportion to the staff headcount. It ranges from 1 representative for companies with 11 employees to 35 representatives for companies with over 10,000 employees.


CSE’s responsibilities in companies with fewer than 50 employees

There has been a carry-over of most assignments formerly entrusted to the Staff Delegates:

  • they can therefore present individual claims relating to wages, the application of the Labour Code, etc.;
  • they will have a role in the promotion of health, safety and working conditions in the company, investigation of accidents at work or occupational illnesses;
  • they can refer all complaints and observations relating to the application of legal provisions to the labour inspectorate.

CSE’s responsibilities in companies with 50 or more employees

There has been a carry-over of the powers previously assigned to the Staff Delegates explained above as well as those previously assigned to the Works Council:

  • the CSE remains informed and consulted on matters concerning the organisation, management and general operation of the company.

The CSE remains informed and consulted periodically on:

  • the strategic orientations of the company;
  • the economic and financial situation of the company;
  • the social policy of the company, working conditions and employment.

Finally, the CSE has prerogatives that were formally those of the Health and Safety Committee (CHSCT).

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