“More than in other Western European countries […], the state defines industrial relations”
(Van Ruysseveldt and Visser, 1996. p.86)
Many characteristics are specific to France, such as the underdeveloped system of collective bargaining, fragmented labour movement, organizational weakness of both unions and employers associations and traditional conflictual relations. But as Van Ruysseveldt said, extensive state intervention is the most important one. While the first state intrusion on working time occurred in 1841 (Jefferys, 2000. p.255), extensive interventionism seems to have really started in the early 1980s, when modernisation of industrial relations became the main aim of successive French governments. Many laws were introduced to increase cooperation and decentralisation of decision-making and to create an institutional basis for company industrial relations. Moreover, the issue of working time has been extensively used as a vehicle to reform French industrial relations: but how, and with what degree of success?
This essay will first analyse the possible causes of state intervention, before focusing on working time issues. Finally, it will discuss the effectiveness of working time regulations on French industrial relations, since the 1980s and until 2007.
I – State intervention: why?
1.1- Trade Unions weakness and unemployment…
French industrial relations can be characterized by poor and conflictual relationships between activist worker representatives and anti-union employers. Moreover, trade unions weakness does not facilitate the already limited system of collective bargaining. In 1998 indeed, only 33% of companies with more than 20 employees had a union (DARES, 2007), whereas a decline in membership has been noticed in recent years.
Furthermore, the state is increasingly concerned with unemployment: its rate in 1997 (12.3%) ranked France 18th in European countries (INSEE, 1997; Migaud, 2007).
1.2- …led to state...