Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The constitution and labor law provide workers the right to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law provides for the right to bargain collectively and allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Workers, except those in certain essential services such as police and the armed forces, have the right to strike unless the strike threatens public safety. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and forbids removing a candidate from a recruitment procedure for asking about union membership or trade union activities. The Ministry of Labor treats such discrimination as a criminal offense and prosecutes cases of discrimination by both individuals and companies.
Individuals violating the law may be subject to punishment ranging from three years’ imprisonment and a 45,000 euro ($51,800) fine to up to five years imprisonment and a 75,000 euro ($86,200) fine if the discrimination occurs in a venue open to the public. Companies violating the law may be subject to punishment ranging from a minimum fine of 225,000 euros ($259,000) to a maximum fine of 375,000 euros ($431,000) if the discrimination takes place in a venue open to the public. These penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations, although union representatives noted antiunion discrimination occasionally occurred, particularly in small companies.
Public-sector workers must declare their intention to strike at least 48 hours before the strike commences. In addition, a notification of intent to strike is permissible only after negotiations between trade unions and employers have broken down. Workers are not entitled to receive pay while striking. Wages, however, may be paid retroactively. Health-care workers are required to provide a minimum level of service during strikes. In the public transportation (buses, metro) and rail sectors, the law requires the continuity of public services at minimum service levels during strikes. This minimum service level is defined through collective bargaining between the employer and labor unions for each transportation system. For road transportation strikes, the law on minimum service provides for wages to be calculated proportionally to time worked while striking. Transportation users must also receive clear and reliable information on the services that would be available in the event of a disruption. Authorities effectively enforced laws and regulations, including those prohibiting retaliation against strikers.
Workers freely exercised their rights to form and join unions and choose their employee representatives, conduct union activities, and bargain collectively. Workers’ organizations stressed their independence vis-a-vis political parties. Some of their leaders, however, did not conceal their political affiliations. Union representatives noted that antiunion discrimination occasionally occurred, particularly in small companies.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law recognizes the offenses of forced labor and forced servitude as crimes. The government effectively enforced the law, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The government also provided financial support to NGOs that assist victims.
Men, women, and children, mainly from Eastern Europe, West Africa, and Asia, were subject to forced labor, including domestic servitude (also see section 7.c.). There were no government estimates on the extent of forced labor among domestic workers, many of whom were migrant women and children. In 2017 the NGO Committee against Modern Slavery assisted 170 victims of forced labor, 72 percent of whom were women.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16. There are exceptions for persons enrolled in certain apprenticeship programs or working in the entertainment industry, who are subject to further labor regulations for minors. The law generally prohibits persons younger than 18 from performing work considered arduous or dangerous, such as working with dangerous chemicals, high temperatures, heavy machinery, electrical wiring, metallurgy, dangerous animals, working at heights, or work that exposes minors to acts or representations of a pornographic or violent nature. Persons younger than 18 are prohibited from working on Sunday, except as apprentices in certain sectors, including hotels, cafes, caterers, and restaurants. Youth are prohibited from working between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are younger than 16 and between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. when they are between 16 and 18.
The government effectively enforced labor laws, although some children were exploited in the worst forms of child labor, including commercial sexual exploitation (also see section 6, Children) and forced criminal activity. Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor investigated workplaces to enforce compliance with all labor statutes. To prohibit violations of child labor statutes, inspectors may place employers under observation or refer them for criminal prosecution. Employers convicted of using child labor risk up to five years’ imprisonment and a 75,000 euro ($86,200) fine. These penalties proved generally sufficient to deter violations.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The labor code prohibits discrimination based upon an individual’s national origin; sex; customs; sexual orientation; gender identity; age; family situation or pregnancy; genetic characteristics; particular vulnerability resulting from an economic situation that is apparent or known to the author of discrimination; real or perceived ethnicity, nationality or race; political opinions; trade union or mutual association activities; religious beliefs; physical appearance; family name; place of residence or location of a person’s bank; state of health; loss of autonomy or disability; and ability to express oneself in a language other than French. Authorities generally enforced this prohibition, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations in this area. The International Labor Organization raised concerns that the labor code does not prohibit discrimination based on social origin.
A gender equality law provides measures to reinforce equality in the workplace as well as sanctions against companies whose noncompliance could prevent women from bidding for public contracts. The law also requires employers to conduct yearly negotiations with employees on professional and pay equity between women and men in companies with more than 50 employees.
Employment discrimination based on sex, gender, disability, and national origin occurred. The country’s Roma community faced employment discrimination. The law requires that women receive equal pay for equal work. In March 2017 INSEE released a study that indicated that in 2014, the most recent year for which data were available, women working the equivalent of full time earned 18.6 percent less than men did. The average monthly salary was 2,410 euros ($2,770) for men. Women on average earned 1,962 euros ($2,260) per month; salary depended on qualifications, age, and sex. The same study also indicated that 18 percent of salaried men in the private sector held managerial positions, while 13 percent of women with similar skills were managers.
The Fund Management Organization for the Professional Integration of People with Disabilities (AGEFIPH) and the fund for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in the Public Service released an audit in June that showed unemployment among persons with disabilities, who represented 19 percent (513,000) of the unemployed, increased 4.7 percent for the period January-September 2017. The law requires at least 6 percent of the workforce in companies with more than 20 employees to be persons with disabilities. The law requires noncompliant companies to contribute to a fund managed by AGEFIPH.
Approximately 39 percent of private-sector enterprises (41,270) met the requirement in 2017, while 48 percent contributed into the fund and a small number (mostly large corporations) received an exemption from the government based on a negotiated action plan, according to AGEFIPH. In 2017 President Macron initiated a plan to promote the inclusion of workers with disabilities in the workplace.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage met the poverty level. Employers, except those in the informal economy, generally adhered to the minimum wage requirement. The government effectively enforced wage laws, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations.
The official workweek is 35 hours, although companies may negotiate exceptions with employees. The maximum number of working days for workers is 235 days per year. Maximum hours of work are set at 10 hours per day, 48 hours per week, and an average of 44 hours per week during a 12-week work period. Workdays and overtime hours are fixed by a convention or an agreement in each sector in accordance with the labor code. Under an executive order signed in September 2017, companies with fewer than 50 employees may negotiate working conditions directly with employees without involvement of labor unions.
On August 2, the High Court ordered that the local subsidiary of a United Kingdom-based pest control services company pay 60,000 euros ($69,000) in damages for violating labor laws related to overtime. The company fired an employee in 2011 for not being reachable after normal working hours to handle emergency cases. The court determined the company could not require employees to respond to emergency calls after working hours if it did not compensate its employees for being on call. Employers must negotiate the use of digital tools with employees or their collective bargaining units and publish clear rules on “the right to disconnect” based on the employee agreement and a 2016 “right to disconnect” law that requires employers to allow employees to “disconnect” from email, SMS messages, and other electronic communications after working hours.
Employees are entitled to a daily rest period of at least 11 hours and a weekly break of at least 24 hours. Employers are required to give workers a 20-minute break during a six-hour workday. Premium pay of 25 percent is mandatory for overtime and work on weekends and holidays; the law grants each worker five weeks of paid leave per year for a full year of work performed. The standard amount of paid leave is five weeks per year (2.5 weekdays per month, equivalent to 30 weekdays per year). Some companies also allowed other compensatory days for work in excess of 35 hours to 39 hours per week, called “spare-time account.” Work in excess of 39 hours per week was generally remunerated.
The government sets occupational health and safety standards in addition to those set by the EU. Government standards cover all employees and sectors. Individual workers could report work hazards to labor inspectors, unions, or (for companies with more than 50 employees) their company health committee, but they did not have an explicit right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace.
The Ministry of Labor enforced the law governing work conditions and performed this responsibility effectively, in both the formal and the informal economy. The government permitted salaries below the minimum wage for specific categories of employment, such as subsidized jobs and internships, that must conform to separate, clearly defined standards. Labor inspectors enforced compliance with the labor law. Disciplinary sanctions at work are strictly governed by the labor code to protect employees from abuse of power by their employers. Employees could pursue appeals in a special labor court up to the Court of Cassation. Sanctions depend on the loss sustained by the victim and were usually applied on a case-by-case basis.
Penalties for labor violations depend on the status of the accused. The law provides for employers and physical persons convicted of labor violations to be imprisoned for up to three years and pay fines of up to 45,000 euros ($51,800) with additional penalties, including a prohibition on conducting a commercial or industrial enterprise. The law provides for companies found guilty of undeclared work to be fined up to 225,000 euros ($259,000) and face additional sanctions, such as closing the establishment, placing it under judicial supervision, making the judgment public, confiscating equipment, or dissolving the establishment as a legal person.
Immigrants were more likely to face hazardous work, generally because of their concentration in sectors such as agriculture, construction, and hospitality services. In July the newspaper La Provence reported on the abuse of migrant agricultural laborers in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region. The workers, who mainly came from South America, reportedly were paid less than the lawful minimum wage, made to work more hours than the law allows, and were not paid overtime or given breaks. According to the newspaper, workers were kept isolated, often living in cramped conditions in vans and mobile homes on their employer’s property. An investigation by the local agricultural labor union found “a manifest and organized violation” of workers’ rights on 12 farms in the region, where laborers were forced to work 30 days out of 30 (see section 7.b.).