Neoliberalism Booster New York Times Egregiously Misrepresents French Labor Laws

Yves here. While this post may seem to be focused on a particularly narrow issue, it’s important object lesson. The post below shows that a recent New York Times story wasn’t simply inaccurate, but that it flagrantly and verifiably misrepresented French labor rules in almost every manner imaginable. In other words, this article wasn’t reporting. It was unabashed propaganda.

By a senior general counsel with over 20 years’ experience across the IT, finance, insurance, banking, telecom, biotech, media and entertainment sectors who is now Legal Director for a major consultancy in France. Managed a series of multinational corporate restructuring programs in Europe during the financial crisis. Very knowledgeable about labor law regimes across the continent

The August 4th New York Times article Macron Takes On France’s Labor Code, 100 Years in the Making by Adam Nossiter is misleading and erroneous in its description of the Labor Code – – “a mind-numbing 3,324 pages long and growing” – from his first sentence .

Nossiter’s article is curious, infuriating and filled with hoary but totally false statements that support the neoliberal argument that France needs to dismantle its worker protections to make it more “competitive” and “flexible” – despite the fact that French workers are more productive than just about any other workforce in the Developed World ($108/hour worked versus G7 average $102).

Firstly, yes, the Code is around 3000 pages long, including annotated case law references for the various laws. Why are 3000 pages needed to regulate the labor market?

As readers of NC will know, France is a unitary country with one legal system for all its regions and départements. Meaning that one code needs to cover the entire country.

Since Nossiter is seemingly astounded by all those French pages, let’s compare it to the much more flexible US law page counts: The US Code Title 29 combined with the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 29 is a mere 1874 printed pages. Note that the French Code is printed on much smaller sized paper (A5, 148x210mm) to make it easier to carry. So in fact, just the US Federal law (not counting state laws or case law) is already much more voluminous than the French Code.

Nossiter’s further claims that “France’s infamous, almost indecipherable labor code, the Code du Travail is both revered and reviled.

Infamous? It’s hard to understand how this could be applied to such a banal handbook of how to legally manage employees. It’s a specialist’s legal text.

Indecipherable? Hardly. A layperson could easily peruse the table of contents or the index to find out for example, how a labor tribunal is composed and rules for the election of judges. If I’m worried that I’ll be fired, I could look up the rules for the proper procedure and prepare myself for the kabuki show of the entretien préalable where the employer must inform you of the reasons for your dismissal and give you a chance to respond.

Reviled? Perhaps in hardcore French neoliberal French business circles, the Code is reviled. It would be their dream to be able to hire and fire “at will” as in the US. No labor lawyer I know – and I know some very liberal/neoliberal-minded ones – reviles the code. One occasionally hears frustration with the way certain articles have been drafted, or the latest Cassation Court decision interpreting a point of law but never something as strong as revulsion.

Revered? Of course unions and workers’ organizations rightly revere the Code as the result of decades of struggle for labor rights. France is by no means a redistributive Democratic Socialist country in the Scandinavian mold but it does have a history of workers’ solidarity movements making hard fought achievements in social rights – and the Labor Code is a key embodiment of those protections.

Nossiter again: The code is regarded by many as the wellspring of the country’s malaise and

the chief obstacle to generating jobs, leaving the country with an unemployment

rate that hovers persistently around 10 percent.

Wellspring of the country’s malaise, chief obstacle to generating jobs? What is France’s malaise? Ask French people what’s wrong with the country and they will not tell you it’s the Labor Code. As of the last survey by IPSOS, French people are most concerned about changes to the Labor Code. From Le Monde:

  • Nearly half of them (48%, +5 points in one year) believe that the protection of employees should be strengthened, compared to 44% (down 7 points), who want more flexibility in the labor market, and 8% to maintain the current situation.
  • Similarly, 55% (+ 13 points in one year) believe that, in order to boost growth, the role of the State in certain sectors of the economy must be strengthened, as against 45% (- 13 points) wishing to limit the role of the state and give as much freedom as possible to enterprises.

Nossitter: “Mr. Macron is trying to establish the revolutionary idea that over two centuries of laws and court decisions minutely regulating work — the contents of the code — can now be bypassed.”

There is no talk of bypassing the Code. To be very clear, the changes to labor law that the Macron administration is proposing will be incorporated into the existing Code (likely making it even more mind-numbing for the New York Times). The proposed changes are as follows:

Upper and lower limits on labor tribunal awards. rather than allowing the labor tribunals to award monetary compensation based on their opinion of the individual case, the new law would set out a number of levels based on types of unjustified dismissals. This is to allow employers to better estimate the cost of a dismissal and avoid long court cases.

Economic layoffs in multinational groups. the current law forces labor tribunals to consider the worldwide economic performance of a multinational in judging whether a layoff in France is justified. The law would allow the courts to limit their consideration to only performance in France or perhaps the EU (still being argued), allowing multinationals to close poor-performing French subsidiaries at a lower cost.

Reduction of the statute of limitations on bringing an unfair dismissal case against a former employer. The current law allows employees up to a year to challenge an unfair dismissal. The proposal is for a reduction but the limit has not yet been mooted by the administration.

Part-time contracts for project work. Currently, part-time contracts (CDD) are limited to 6 months in duration with one renewal. The change would allow longer contracts to match “project” work. This is promoted as modernization that will be adopted by the IT sector but it is easy to see how this could also affect the building and construction industry – though there is discussion about limiting this to certain sectors of the economy. Things aren’t clear yet and this could be the one aspect that does not get through to the final law. This is a long-wished for change by the business lobby.

There are also some proposed articles governing night hours (these have to be agreed in a collective agreement) and the accounting of hours linked to pension amounts for certain jobs that are considered especially physically arduous (train workers, construction, nursing, etc.).

Legal recognition of intra-enterprise agreements: while not yet clear how this will look in text, the administration intends to allow certain intra-company agreements to take precedence over collective agreements for entire professions or agreements among a group of interrelated companies.

Nossiter on this aspect: “individual agreements would be negotiated at the company or industry level between bosses and workers.”

False.

This change would not simply permit a company to “bypass” the Code but is considered an “inversion” of the current philosophy of the labor law in that it allows lower steps in the hierarchy to change regulation by simple company vote. Unions are for the most part against this provision that would in effect abrogate their authority from the bottom up.

It is also worth noting that an employer does not currently have the right to organize an employee referendum – this is either set out in law for the employees to organize themselves through their works councils or via a union if it has enough members.

Nossiter: “Last year Mr. Macron’s predecessor, President François Hollande, backed down from an assault on the code when the unions filled the streets in protest for weeks.”

False. After much protest, some of it violent — and the formation of the “Nuit Debout” movement — the “El Khomri” law was indeed passed by using a parliamentary maneuver under Article 49 of the French Constitution which allows the Prime Minister to pass a non-budget law once per session if the government can survive a no-confidence vote.

Nossiter: “For now, the labor code is so complex, and violating it is so risky, that many French employers keep it in a separate room and speak of it with awe. Only specialists, on their staff or outside it, are allowed to consult the oracle, they say.”

This is absolute nonsense. Anyone can consult the Code online. In my company’s Legal Department it sits on a table next to the team of 3 labor lawyers. I think there’s a few copies, actually. Anyone can stop by and read it. I might page through it for an aspect of my own work with no one raising an eyebrow.

Nossiter: “The long epoch of the Jacobin, the centralizing and controlling hand of Paris in the grit of France’s economic life — present since the Napoleonic era — will be unraveled if Mr. Macron gets his way.”

What to say here. I’ve set out above the reforms – there is no change to the unitary government, the Code promulgated from Napoleon’s time will still be in effect (the Code Civil – the Labor Code dates from the 1900’s). The only thing unraveling is Nossiter’s article on these pages.

Nossiter: “Indeed, at the heart of the code’s language is the notion that the worker is inevitably an exploitable object needing blanket protection from rapacious capitalist predators. Over time, that idea has been woven into the fabric of the society and economy. Even today, Stéphane Sirot, a labor historian, said, ‘It is the state that makes the law.’”

The Code sets out provisions that govern employer-employee relations and while there is a grain of truth in the statement that the Code can be interpreted as having the point of view that employees are exploitable, it’s because they are. An employer holds Damocle’s sword if hiring and firing are not regulated by law. And yes, M. Sirot – the state makes the law. I believe this is true just about everywhere – that said, with legislative capture one could argue that the state doesn’t make the law any longer in the US, but I digress.

Nossister: Labor courts […] tilt heavily in favor of labor, and at their discretion can award big payouts to workers who are dismissed. Those penalties have become among the chief disincentives to new hires.

Nossiter is propagandizing by omission. Labor courts only award payouts to workers who are dismissed without reason – unjustified dismissals. This can be for discrimination, for example and often is related to age or even an employee’s religion. This is why labor courts exist.

There is more in Nossiter’s alarmingly inaccurate article that is worth examining but this is perhaps the best line and it comes not from him but the owner of a window business that he interviewed:

Recently, she hired a temporary worker to help with a surge in orders, intending to make the person full time. But then she decided against it. “We felt that it was someone who really knew the Code du Travail,” she said. “He had caused problems at the SNCF,” the French state railroad, “‘You owe me this, you owe me that,’” Ms. Guerniou said. “We’ve gone too far.”

A temporary worker at a window business “really knew” the inscrutable, impenetrable, reviled, revered Code du Travail? Not only that, he was fired for it.

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39 comments

  1. Jeff

    The main subject in the proposal is the ‘inversion’ mentioned above. Currently, the law sets out the minimum legal conditions (worktime, conditions, …). Then there are ‘collective agreements’ that apply to all entreprises in the building sector, sports associations, transport, metallurgy and so forth. These agreements must be at least ‘as good’ as the law, and are often better (eg, the convention for metallurgy says that if you need to travel to Paris for a work-related meeting, you are entitled to recover the travel time). And company or group conventions must be better than the collective agreements.
    Macron wants to invert this hierarchy, so a company can have (rather, impose) a specific agreement that is worse than the law or the collective agreement, because “the house is burning”.
    What is never stated, are the consequences of that law. Work is today organised by subcontracting stuff to external parties that subcontract further etc.
    So once the law is enacted, you can expect e.g. Renault asking its subcontractors to lower their prices by having a specific agreement, and this will ripple through the whole chain until everybody is worse off.
    The transportation sector is already very low in this food chain, and they saw it coming early. After a big strike last year (prior to the El-Khomri reforms being enacted by force) they got some specific protection, but not sure that will survive Macron’s ultra-liberal reforms.

  2. Clive

    Plus, of course, completely airbrushed from the NYT reporting, much of the French labour code is derived from EU law such as these Directives on gender equality (and there are others which apply to disability, religious matters, race, sexuality and so on — there was also a lot of cross-pollination in so far as various national codes informed the Directives) — so cannot be rolled back unilaterally.

    Even post-Brexit the UK will have to have similar “red tape” because of various human rights obligations such as UN treaties.

    Oh, and, just as a by-the-way, because it is also the right thing to do. Except if you’re an unscrupulous, underhanded exploitative employer.

    1. nonclassical

      Yves’ perspective bears acknowledgement:

      “The Code sets out provisions that govern employer-employee relations and while there is a grain of truth in the statement that the Code can be interpreted as having the point of view that employees are exploitable, it’s because they are. An employer holds Damocle’s sword if hiring and firing are not regulated by law. And yes, M. Sirot – the state makes the law. I believe this is true just about everywhere – that said, with legislative capture one could argue that the state doesn’t make the law any longer in the US, but I digress.”

      1. Zzzz Andrew

        That’s the author’s perspective, not Yves’; Yves just introduced the piece.

        To the author: thank you very much for taking the trouble to write it up, I’ve been hoping to see this since the original article was first referenced in Links. It’s very useful to be able to demonstrate prima facie evidence of NYT bad faith discussing the reforms on offer with friends and acquaintances.

  3. Livius Drusus

    Dean Baker has also blasted the neoliberal argument regarding French labor law “reform” a few times.

    France’s Malaise Doesn’t Keep It from Employing a Larger Share of Prime-Age Workers than U.S.

    http://cepr.net/blogs/beat-the-press/france-s-malaise-doesn-t-keep-from-employing-a-larger-share-of-prime-age-workers-than-u-s

    U.S. Economy Can’t Even Match the “Sclerotic Statism” of France

    http://cepr.net/blogs/beat-the-press/u-s-economy-can-t-even-match-the-sclerotic-statism-of-france

    On a somewhat related note (because it is about France and neoliberalism) Bill Mitchell discusses the career of Jacques Delors:

    Jacques Delors – a failed leader not a champion of a prosperous Europe

    http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=36628

    1. Bugs Bunny

      Excellent links – thanks.

      In a a way the Delors-DSK faction of the PS is running France right now. Imho I don’t believe it can last any longer than the last two governments.

      This political class totally overestimates their ability to hang on to power. If MLP had not been sleep-deprived in the last debate, who knows what would have happened. Their bright boy did not look so good until that very moment – though he might have still got the prix par défaut.

      1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

        NYT article is standard agitprop, wouldn’t want the plebes in the US getting wind of the fact that France has gleaming transport infrastructure, generous childcare and maternity benefits, almost free university and health care, shorter workweeks, four week’s mandated vacation, decent retirement AND the same productivity per capita as the US

        Same category as “freedom fries” and other complete misdirection and projection

  4. H. Alexander Ivey

    Stéphane Sirot, a labor historian, said, ‘It is the state that makes the law.’

    Another bad effect of propaganda, like this example, is how it takes words out of context. I haven’t read M. Sirot, so I can’t say what his context was. Perhaps he was stating the obvious as a start point for an argument, a valid tactic. But under use in propaganda, it becomes a loose cannon, ending up aimed at the speaker. Perhaps M. Sirot really did speak in tautologies, or perhaps not. But he sure ends up looking foolish.

    ps. loved the aside about the US legislature system-Freedom Fries! Yeah!!

  5. D. Battabong

    Here I am, faithful NC follower, NYC guy who’s been living in France 30+ years, started a business here, speak french and have been through a full barrique of adventures and scenarios. Over the years, I have read the fiery opinions of NC readers whenever this country and its socio-cultural ambience comes up. I’ve always assumed that commenters are people who LOVE France and have maybe been here once or twice, or worked for a multinational in Paris for a year, so, yeah, they know. I have always refrained from commenting because it’s the internet and there’s rarely anything to gain and, well, blahblahblah.

    I am one of the first to dismiss almost any opinion piece coming from the NYT, this one is, IMO, not all that far from the truth. The french labor code is incomprehensible. In fact, one of the first principles of starting a business in France, especially but not limited to furriners seeking entrepreneurial adventure, is find an accountant and a lawyer. Why? When you need advice about anything labor-related, you ask both and hope and pray that on any given issue you get similar advice from the 2 of them. Occasionally, it happens, usually not. Confusion reigns. Everyone in France knows this. Gallic shrug. The french labor code is indeed incomprehensible.

    I didn’t quite figure out who wrote the original text here, but every bullet point in the post could be nuanced and refuted to some degree. I’m certainly not the one to do this, but, people, like wow! Enough with the cognitive bias.

    Full Disclosure: I am not and have never been an unscrupulous, underhanded explorative (or exploitative) employer. I support workers’ rights. Hell, I support everyone’s rights.

    Time for lunch.

    1. Bugs Bunny

      The article cited from the NYT was not an opinion piece but was presented as straight reporting. If you can refute or nuance any of the factual errors from the article pointed out above, I would be very interested in reading your comments.

      Regarding starting a business in France without having an accountant or a lawyer — My two best friends did so.

      One friend still has his boutique is and his main worry is generating foot traffic, not adhering to employment law.

      The other friend saw his perfume supply business dry up mainly due to cheap imported Chinese substitute products. He did once have to hire a lawyer but the case was totally unrelated to employment law.

      Of course both need accounting advice for corporate tax reasons. Could you do without that in any country?

      1. Edward

        Maybe the user-friendliness of the code depends on the size of the business; a small business might find it onerous while a corporation might not.

          1. Edward

            The original article drew from the author’s experience in a company where:

            “In my company’s Legal Department it sits on a table next to the team of 3 labor lawyers.”

            I don’t think a typical small business has a legal department.

    2. Sam Adams

      I’m curious how much “incomprehension” of the French Code is just similar to the “incomprehension” of the US and state and Municipal Statures that regulate labor because the person reading them are unfamiliar or unschooled with reading legal text. In actual time, how often does an employer (or even an employee) need to consult the laws’ text? It’s usually after the normal interpersonal négociations fail and positions mounted that legal texts are unsheathed for battle.

    3. John A

      Consulting an accountant and a lawyer is sound advice in whichever country you start a business.
      As for the French labour code indeed being incomprehensible, do you understand what

      incomprehensible

      means by definition? While perhaps most law is better left to lawyers to interpret, that does not mean something is incomprehensible.
      PS I live half the year in France and speak French.

    4. Sluggeaux

      Having spent 12 years as a labor rep in an association representing 300 lawyers in government service, I found it interesting how otherwise crystal clear statutes, legal precedents, and contract terms could suddenly become “incomprehensible” when one party to the discussion found them to be inconvenient. As our own Sinclair Lewis often said:

      “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

    5. Yves Smith Post author

      With all due respect, anyone who thinks they can start a business without a lawyer and accountant in the US is naive and asking for lots of trouble. I don’t see how you can think France would be different.

  6. David Miller

    “Incomprehensible” is obviously in the eye of the beholder. I have lived and started businesses in both Western Europe and the US. My take would be that labour codes and codes in general tend to be needlessly lengthy and restrictive and that one pretty well needs an accountant and lawyer in both places for anything much past a sole proprietorship.

    For the me the takeaway is – as ever – the NYT is garbage biased crap. And every time I think on this I remember my historian father telling me as a youth that the great thing about the NYT was that it was the “paper of record” and would always have just a bit more credibility as to any issue than all others. It spent centuries building that reputation and, presumably, would never want to completely lose it.

    Fast forward a few decades and all I think of now with respect to the NYT is “mouthpiece for garbage neoliberal soulless vampires.” Well done NYT! Way to napalm several centuries of brand value in, what, 15 years?

  7. divadab

    I’ve found that the best way to approach the NYT and other organs of the US Imperial Propaganda Apparatus is as ancient Soviets approached Pravda – not as a source of information in general – which it decidedly is NOT – but rather as an indicator of what its owners want us herd humans to think.

    In this case supporting the neoliberal globalist agenda and its photogenic French exemplar. It’s all created – C’est un “fromage marketing” – avec un gout comme le fromage mais sans tradition ni verite.

  8. James E Keenan

    When I hear people bemoaning the rigidity of French (or EC) labor laws, the line of reasoning usually goes like this:

    * Rigid laws re hiring and firing makes employers reluctant to create new job openings.

    * Lack of new job openings keeps unemployment rates high (10%+), particularly for younger people.

    * This creates a two-tier labor market in which the interests of one part of the working class — people already working in jobs secured under the Labor Code — are in conflict with the interests of another part — those working in temporary jobs and the unemployed.

    What are the correct and incorrect parts of this line of reasoning?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      What is keeping unemployment high is lack of demand in the economy as a result of among other things inadequate corporate investment and spending. That has absolutely nada to do with labor rules; that trend started first in the “hire and fire at will” US in the early 2000s.

      The problem is worse in the EU due to Maastrict rules generally (which restrict deficit spending and don’t allow for fiscal mechanisms at the EU level to create enough demand). It was made vastly worse by the crisis and the way the EU handled the crisis.

      Plus the size of the banking sector has now been shown to be a negative for growth and EU banks are bigger relative to GDP than US banks.

      1. JP

        They bailed the banks. Bad loans (Greek bonds) were assumed by the state and austerity imposed on the labor class. It was an odoliberial (German) anti-keynesian response and it failed. While the US economy largely recovered, in spite of the Republican effort to stall it, Europe stagnated.

        1. digi_owl

          And until the EU stop dancing to the German yoke, nothing will change (or the EU will disintegrate from all the yoke pulling)…

      2. D. Battabong

        Yves, I don’t want to get involved in this discussion anymore than I already am, but M. Keenan is way closer to the truth of french unemployment than you are. Also, that the commenting is so one-sided confirms to me that there are a lot of armchair intellectuals here. An interesting test would be to translate all this and see if you can get a suitably gauchiste french journal to publish it. Then watch the comments.

        PS: I went too quickly through the lawyer/accountant thing in my earlier post. It’s funny, I tried to use the 5-minute edit period to flesh it out, explain a little but time ran out and my post escaped. I didn’t have the courage to write another post. The lawyer/accountant thing is the wrong way to go about explaining what is wrong. My bad.

  9. Pinhead

    The French labor code provides no job protection whatsoever for people like myself who want to continue working beyond the age of 65. Even worse, anyone past the (effectively) official retirement age who does work independantly must continue paying a very substantial share of his income from work to a retirement fund from which he cannot withdraw a centime until he stops working totally and definitively.

    I was told that I am a “parasite” because, by continuing to work well into my 70’s, I am supposedly taking employment away from some youngster who cannot get into the job market. When I challenged the bureacrat who told me this to find a young person who wanted to work for me, and learn all that I can teach, I was rudely shown the door.

    This is only one personal incident. I could recount many that my start-up company clients have endured. I have had to spend much time and energy to save them from bankruptcy caused by the labor inspectors.

    The recent El Khomri reforms and the ones M. Macron is likely to get passed move in the right direction. Having simple rules for young and tiny companies would accomplish much more. (The median enterprise in France has fewer than 3 salaried employees. Multinationals, including large French companies, represent, a fairly small share of the total salaried workforce. Most of French business would cheer if there were reinforced employment protection for their workers.)

    Rooting out the notorious corruption of the “Prud’hommes” (labor courts) would be another welcome reform, not on the government’s “to do” list.

    There are many reasons why unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is so high in France and even higher in Italy in Spain. Most of them come down to worker protection laws, and to the monumental incompetence of the government-run employment programs.

    1. Mucho

      There are many reasons why unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is so high in France and even higher in Italy in Spain. Most of them come down to worker protection laws, and to the monumental incompetence of the government-run employment programs.

      It has, of course, nothing to do with the financial crisis and the subsequent austerity. Could you please elaborate how worker protection laws and the monumental incompetence of the government-run employment programs are the cause?

  10. Altandmain

    IF anything, we North Americans need a lot stronger labor laws. We could also use the vacation the Europeans have.

    The NYT is just a neoliberal Pravda-like mouthpiece acting on behalf of the very wealthy to try to accelerate the US return into the Gilded Age. That is where we are headed.

    As for France – they need a massive fiscal stimulus and to address the current account deficit. They also need to put their financial sector under a tight leash.

  11. Peter T

    Looser labour laws will lower unemployment is one of those mantras people take for granted. Why, many even have anecdotes about how, if only someone had been able to fire at will, their business would have flourished.

    In fact, the empirical support for this is pretty near nil (and always has been). All economists should be required to have “There is no such thing as THE LABOUR MARKET” tattooed on their writing hands without anaesthetic before being allowed to graduate. Some may be allowed to use variant spellings, but that is all.

  12. EoH

    What would one expect from a former investment banker, attempting to put a French lilt onto Margaret Thatcher’s stilted Oxbridge economic dialect? Thatcherism tripled the number of children growing up in poverty. She bent the full power of the state into making of unions a desert so that she could call it peace. Is that what Macron has in mind?

    In my experience, American business executives attempting to do business in France were always surprised, dumbfounded, that French workers generally – not just executives – have rights, enforceable and expensive to ignore. It made me imagine the reaction of the gentry to flouters of medieval sumptuary laws.

    Undoing the protections for French society incorporated into its labor rules is a refrain one might hear at Walton or Koch family gatherings, from the Business Roundtable, or from the American Chamber of Commerce. But keeping them in place is a priority among the French.

    French labor rules are the result of decades of conflict and compromise; they are part of contemporary culture and society. They are not threadbare clothes to be replaced with the first autumn wind. Nor are they simply the product of Napoleonic drafters or the outlandish demands of a Danny the Red.

    Nossiter’s article has less to do with France and more to do with selling a comic opera version of America’s peculiar form of extreme capitalism, non?

  13. EoH

    There is so much to Nossiter’s diatribe, one hardly knows where to begin.

    Labor law sets minimum standards of behavior between employer and employee. In contemporary practice, those minimum standards are a ceiling, an upper limit on what an employee can expect from an employer. That places a premium on what’s in the law – and on how well and how consistently it is enforced – which is presumably one reason Nossiter is so belabored about the whole thing.

    And yes, employees can be exploited, especially by employers with the most market share. Nossiter seems to object that the Code often takes the employee’s perspective, as a counterweight to inhibit that exploitation. That’s common in industrial relations laws outside the US, although their enforcement varies. The US is well to the right in using the power of the state – laws, courts, sheriffs, militia – to help employers and to hinder labor. Taft-Hartley comes to mind as part of a concerted post-WWII effort to gut Depression era legislation that helped unions.

    Nossiter is also aggrieved that labor courts sometimes, often even, award damages to unfairly dismissed employees. Quelle suprise. The emphasis should be on the unfairness of the dismissal, a non sequitur in the US, where many state laws impose a “right to fire/work” regime on employees. In France, employers know the rules. The pool of dismissals that are unfair enough to require adjudication is smaller than it would be in the US.

    Nossiter also seems aggrieved that such specialized courts exist or that they ever render judgments in favor of employees. I wonder what Nossiter’s opinion is on the common American practice in business bankruptcies of rushing to retain and overpay the very executives that managed their way into bankruptcy as an essential step toward getting out of it.

    1. flora

      I wonder how French labor laws would fare if TTIP was passed? Could multinationals sue France over “potential lost profits”, for example?

      1. EoH

        Not knowing the answer to that is a good enough reason never to adopt trade pacts such as the TTIP.

      2. Sputnik Sweetheart

        A situation like that wouldn’t surprise me at all. For example, there was the case in 2011 where a French company, Veolia, sued Egypt over raising its minimum wage from $56 to $99 a month, using the provisions in their trade agreement. https://mondediplo.com/2014/06/12ttip

        Although TTIP has only recently picked up again, CETA is in a much more advanced stage and has been ratified by the European Parliament. It will be applied provisionally starting in mid-September. Many member states could meet the same fate as Egypt if they ratify the treaty and permit Canadian multinationals (this includes Canadian subsidiaries of US companies like Monsanto) to sue them for protecting their workers. This will also work the other way around with European companies being able to sue the Canadian government as well.
        Here’s a link from Corporate Europe Observatory: https://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/attachments/great-ceta-swindle.pdf
        Some excerpts:

        No EU member state raised labour rights in their unilateral statements. And large parts of the “interpretative instrument” are a mere repetition of CETA’s inconsequential language on the issue, for example, that the EU and Canada “cannot relax their labour laws in order to encourage trade or attract investment” (article 8a). The instrument also indirectly admits that CETA’s labour protections are de facto non-enforceable – because it promises an “early review” of CETA’s labour chapter “with a view” to its “effective enforceability” (article 10a).

        Also:

        CETA’s public procurement rules could lead to legal challenges when public authorities link their buying practices to social criteria such as the minimum wage or compliance
        with collective agreements; CETA’s foreign investor privileges could lead to expensive lawsuits against states when they don’t interfere in long-lasting strikes or when regions establish mandatory minimum staffing levels in hospitals or nursing homes; and the weakening of domestic regulation could present new obstacles to efforts to ensure that services suppliers abide by labour rules.

  14. EoH

    The Times’s August 5th dead tree version of this article apparently came out under the headline:’

    French Leader’s Bold Initiative Confronts 3,324-Page Hurdle.

    The proper label for that is “content placement”.

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