Adopted on July 23, 2015, further to an accelerated parliamentary procedure, the bill on social dialogue and employment, also called "Rebsamen Bill" was enacted on August 17, 2015, with the aim of renewing, simplifying and making the social dialogue in companies more effective. The bill also includes several articles on employment. The main innovations arising from this text are summarized below. The implementation decrees of the Rebsamen Bill are expected in the coming weeks.

The Rebsamen Bill deeply reforms the organisation and the running of the staff representatives' bodies.

  • Rise of the single employees' representatives' body in SMEs

The Rebsamen Bill raises the headcount threshold allowing a company to implement a single employees' representatives' body (in French: "délégation unique du personnel" or "DUP") in order to group the staff representatives' bodies together. From now on, it will be possible to implement the "DUP" in companies employing less than 300 employees, and not only less than 200 employees.

Besides, the "DUP" now exercises not only the powers of the staff delegates (in French: "délégués du personnel" or "DP") and of the works council members (in French: "comité d'entreprise" or "CE"), but also those of the hygiene, safety and work conditions committee (in French: "comité d'hygiène, de sécurité, et des conditions de travail", or "CHSCT").

  • Grouping of staff representatives' bodies in large companies

The Rebsamen Bill also allows companies employing more than 300 employees, subject to entering into a collective bargaining agreement, to implement a single representatives' body which will exercise the powers of the staff delegates, the works council and the hygiene, safety and work conditions committee or of any two of those three bodies.

  • Improvement of the representation in very small firms

The Rebsamen Bill also alters the representation in very small firms by creating regional, interprofessional joint commissions, comprised of employees and employers and designed represent companies employing less than 11 employees which are not already represented by a joint commission in their industry. This measure will, for the most part, come into force on July 1, 2017.

  • Growth of the hygiene, safety and work conditions committee

The Bill consecrates the case-law principle according to which a CHSCT must be put in place as soon as a company as a whole employs at least 50 employees. Previously, this requirement only existed if the 50 employee- threshold was met at the establishment level.

The length of the CHSCT members' mandate increases from 2 to 4 years, to be aligned with the mandate duration for members of the works council and staff delegates.

Finally, the CHSCT consultation procedure is modified on the same basis as the works council's consultation process. The consultation deadlines may thus be determined by way of a collective bargaining agreement, or an agreement entered into with the CHSCT, or failing that, by decree, but may not be less than 15 days.

  • Rationalisation of the staff representatives bodies' consultation process

It is now allowed to hold meetings shared by several staff representatives' bodies as soon as a project requires the information or the consultation of each of them.

More specifically, with regards to the works council, and as from January 1, 2016, all of the works council mandatory and periodic consultations will be grouped into three annual consultations, the respective topics thereof being:

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

The decrees which should specify the type of information to be remitted to the works council before such consultations are still awaited.

Besides, only companies of 300 employees and more should now be obliged to hold a works council's meeting once a month. Below this employee- threshold, the works council's meetings can be held once every two months.

Finally, French law now authorises companies to hold works councils meetings by video conference and to record them.

  • Employee representation within companies' boards

The obligation to implement a representation of the employees in board of directors' or supervisory board meetings is broadened. It now concerns public limited companies (French sociétés anonymes) and limited stock partnerships (French sociétés en commandite par actions) which have been employing, during two successive financial years:

  • At least 1,000 employees, at the headquarters and in the subsidiaries located in France (instead of 5,000 employees before), or
  • At least 5,000 employees, at the headquarters and in the subsidiaries located in France and abroad (instead 10,000 before).

The Rebsamen Bill also rewrites the rules of social dialogue within companies.

  • Rationalisation of collective bargaining

The bill attempts to simplify collective bargaining. As from January 1, 2016, mandatory negotiation topics provided for by the labour code will be gathered into only three groups:

  • the annual negotiation on wages, working time and added value sharing within the company;
  • the annual negotiation on equal pay between men and women and quality of life at the workplace;
  • the three-yearly negotiation on jobs and career management and on the mixing of professions in companies of 300 employees at least.
  • Broadening of collective bargaining in companies without any trade union representative

Collective bargaining in companies without trade union representatives is made easier.

On the one hand, it is now possible to negotiate with staff representatives in all companies whatever their headcount, and not only in companies of less than 200 employees. Depending on whether the negotiation will take place with staff representatives appointed, or not, by a representative trade union, all negotiation subjects may or may not be discussed with those staff representatives.

On the other hand, any company without trade union representatives is now entitled to negotiate with employees appointed by a trade union if staff representatives do not wish to participate in the negotiation. This negotiation mode is no longer limited to companies without any staff representative.

The Rebsamen Bill includes some innovations as regards hygiene, safety and health at the workplace

  • Professional inability in case of an occupational accident or an occupational disease

From now on, when an employee is declared unfit for work by the occupational physician as a result of an accident at work or of an occupational disease, the occupational physician may release the employer from its duty to find redeployment positions for such employee if the medical statement expressly indicates that maintaining the employee within the company would be seriously harmful to the employee's health.

  • "Burn out" recognised as an occupational disease

Subject to certain restrictive conditions, psychological pathologies attributable to the employee's day-to-day work – such as a "burn out" – may now be acknowledged as occupational diseases.

A few other measures to boost employment

  • From now on, fixed-term employment contracts and temporary contracts can be renewed twice, instead of once before. These renewals cannot exceed the maximum duration of such contracts as provided by the French Labour Code. This measure is applicable since the bill came into force on August 17, 2015.
  • Besides, other provisions of the bill include measures to boost employment such as new measures in favour of the hiring of apprentices, the extension of the duration of the financial support triggered by the hiring of an employee aged 50 or more under an "integration contract" (in French: "contrat unique d'insertion"), or the temporary inclusion of the indefinite-term temporary contract in the French Labour Code.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.