Thursday, August 11, 2005

Good Things About France No. 4: Le Comite d'Entreprise

This is my younger daughter, trying to think of a way to drive this souped-up toy vehicle out of the shop without anyone noticing. She is wondering how to spend her 'Cheques Cadeaux' (gift cheques), a present to her from the company I work for. She received them last Christmas and we have been waiting for a rainy day before going out to spend them. Well, it was pretty hot today actually, but you know what I mean... In fact, she hadn't got nearly enough for this little gem, but she did manage to scrape enough together for a wendy house, which made her very happy.

This is not a special perk for my family alone, but something that applies to people who work for larger companies all over France. The 'Cheques Cadeaux' are given to the children themselves by the Comite d'Entreprise of the company I work for. And this is not the only cheque we receive. There is also the 'Cheque Rentree' to help with buying things for going back to school in the Autumn, the 'Cheque Vacance' for paying for holiday activities and the 'Cheque Lire' for buying books at a 50% subsidy. There are then other perks such as 50% or so off the cost of a holiday to selected destinations, reduced price tickets for theme parks, a lot of subsidised sporting and theatrical events, and subsidised training in anything from yoga to guitar lessons.

This is definitely a 'good thing about France'. So what is the Comite d'Entreprise? Well, there's a lot of information here but it's all in French. That's perfectly normal, it's a French institution. But for me, a foreigner, receiving loads of documentation in French, it has taken quite a while to realise the true benefits of this organisation. So here's a brief description in English.

Comite d'Entreprise, roughly translated means: 'the work's council'. In fact, since 1945 every company in France with more than 50 employees has been obliged to have a Comite d'Entreprise. The Comite d'Entreprise's role is to speak on behalf of employees so that their interests are taken into account in decisions relating to the management and financial evolution of the company, notably the organization of work, the vocational training and production techniques. It is a tripartite organization, composed of the head of company who chairs the Committee, a delegation of personnel elected by the employees and a trade-union representative designated by each representative trade union.

The employer must provide administrative offices for the Comite d'Entreprise as well as the material necessary for the performance of its duties. It allots an operational budget to the Comite of 0,2% of the company's total wage bill and also allows a subsidy of 0 % to 5 % of the total wage bill for the financing of the social and cultural activities of the employees. In practice the actual figure is 1%.

In a very large company like the one I work for, the Comite d'Entreprise (or CE) is therefore a very large and rich organisation. Because of their links to the unions, they are also a powerful negotiating force within the company and part of the reason why the directors of French companies have little negotiating power with their work force. In effect, they are obliged by law to finance the people who internally organise union activities.

Most of these perks are available to me, even though I am not a French national. I even have the right to cast a vote for members of the Comite. So, it really is a good thing. French employees sleep safer in their beds and have more fun in their lives all due to the CEs. The only problem is, if I really looked into all the offers that arrive from the CE in my pigeon hole, I would never get any work done. So most of them just pile up on my desk, along with the daily updates from the various unions and assorted other 'junk mail'. After two years in France, the pile of paperwork on my desk coming from this type of activity is about a foot high.


juliana said...

I'm amazed at how many perks France seems to have for her employees and also her citizens. I've never heard of anything this rewarding in the U.S. And Americans sit here thinking that they are getting the best of everything possible and have the best lives in the world. When it comes to my priorities for a family and for my future I would definately move to Europe.

Jonathan Wonham said...

Thanks Juliana. Yes, I agree. That is partly why I'm writing these blogs highlighting good things about France.

It easy to criticise France for aspects of its society which apprear uncompetitive such as the presence of a strong union movement, but it's important to look at the very positive aspects that this empowering political activity bring to the average French person.