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Emmanuel Hoog’s "New Social Contract": a Declaration of War

Thursday 14 November 2013

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

AFP management held a new meeting with the main HQ-status trade unions on Wednesday November 13. This time, the CEO deigned to turn up - but only to say practically nothing for three hours. It was only after the meeting that he broadcast to staff a message laying out his true intentions, which he had apparently not dared to put forward during the talks.
M. Hoog’s plans for a “New Social Contract” can be summed up in a simple phrase: “Work harder, for less”.
Key quotes from his message (translated by SUD):

Management intends to:

  • "start by applying the rules on working hours and leisure time more rigorously. No more storing up of days off under the “Reduced working hours” (RTT) agreement or of recuperation days and holidays, which require major financial provisions for unused time off;
  • cut the number of rest days, which will make it possible to employ less freelancers and temporary-contract workers to replace permanent staff;
  • while allowing wages to increase, avoid such increases being mainly based on seniority;
  • change the organisation of labour so as to promote redeployments to other functions or specialisations in line with the Agency’s strategic aims (video, foreign-language wires, etc.)
  • build an expatriation policy with better and more logical cost controls than the one we currently have.”

Following on from M. Hoog’s honeyed words about how AFP staff are “the agency’s most precious asset”, what we have here is a declaration of war. A war against staff, whose wages bill is presented as the main brake on AFP’s competitiveness, in an unavoidable race to boost its international sales figures.

SUD disagrees 100% with the CEO’s analysis of AFP’s situation. We challenge his figures, his ideology and his supposed solutions.

The new document removes all the ambiguity that M. Hoog had maintained up until then, even during his three-hour meeting with elected union reps. Although the latter was therefore basically pointless, herewith a few quotes from the CEO:

  • When asked about a possible redundancy plan, he said there would be "no slashing cuts in staffing" (“pas de réduction des effectifs de manière sabrée”).
  • Questioned on the aim of his “New Social Contract”, the CEO said he wanted to “simplify things without reducing rights”. Staff had to “identify together possible savings,” he added.
  • The CEO wants to “inspire trust” by stressing that his aim is to “maintain our editorial capacity”. However when asked if that meant that non-journalist posts could be threatened, he ducked the question.
  • Emmanuel Hoog said he did not intend to compromise national collective bargaining agreements, but 117 different in-house agreements at AFP was too many. He did not specify what plans he had for the in-house agreements covering secretarial and administrative staff (employés), white-collar managerial and technical staff (cadres) and blue-collar transmission workers (ouvriers). [Journalists are covered by their national collective bargaining agreement [Fr]].

Hoog’s Message to Staff: Resistance is Useless

Management’s text calls for capitulation to “the world as it is, and not the world as we would like it to be”. In other words, capitulation to all-powerful markets and the neo-liberal diktats of the French government and the European Union. It pays no more than lip service to the specific nature of Agence France-Presse: its statutory independence from both political and economic forces.

Which is absurd: there would never have been any progress if previous generations had resigned themselves to accepting “the world as it is”. Children would still be working in factories, neither weekends nor paid holidays would exist and nor would health insurance or pensions. As for AFP, a product of the French Resistance during World War II, it would never have been born.

Without the determination of both citizens and politicians to keep it going despite “market forces”, AFP would be nothing today.

Like his predecessor Pierre Louette, the current CEO has parted company from the principles laid down in AFP’s 1957 statutes. His declared aim of basically writing off the provision of news in France is in line with the current government’s desire to do nothing to prevent the big French press barons - the Dassault, Hersant and Bouygues groups and other financial or arms-related industries - from keeping the country’s media firmly under their control.

Hoog’s new offensive against any growth in AFP’s wages bill results from the same ideological choices. Today Hoog is channelling Louette, just as President Hollande is channelling Sarkozy. Their enemy is the humble wage-earner, who costs too much.

  • If we let these changes stand, it will be an unending race to the bottom.
    (Indeed, this nonsense has already been going on for too long).
  • SUD will do everything it can to forge a united trade union fight-back.

All together to fight M. Hoog’s damaging projects!

Join SUD !

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