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"New Social Contract": A Chance to Push Back against Arbitrary and Unjust Policies

Monday 2 December 2013

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Union-Management Talks for a "New Social Contract": SUD’s Objectives

The CEO has launched talks with the France-based unions aimed at leading to a major review of all the collective bargaining agreements covering HQ-status staff at AFP. Emmanuel Hoog has said this "New Social Contract" will have both economic and industrial relations aspects.

SUD, which has always called for industrial relations at the agency to be both modernised and placed on a firm ethical basis, has already pointed out that M. Hoog’s stated economic aims would mean forcing us to "work harder, for less". The basic idea being to squeeze staff costs in order to create profit margins capable of financing AFP’s investment programme.

It is clear that if we don’t push back against this effort, we will end up being fleeced. Over the coming months, we must therefore mobilise - all together - to resist any attacks on either our social benefits or on AFP’s founding principles, which are likely to be threatened anew by the CEO’s plans.

To succeed in this aim, however, we have to combat fatalism and resignation, avoid putting the cart before the horse, be clear on what’s at stake and build staff unity around well-defined aims. We will also have to be respectful of the diversity of views and perspectives and handle inter-union relations democratically by stressing what unites us rather than what divides.

It is in that frame of mind that SUD intends to take part in these talks.

Clarity and Coherency

SUD has long criticised the arbitrary and unjust way in which staff-management relations are handled at AFP: notably as regards wages, mobility, short-term contracts and other forms of contractual insecurity. Recent developments in the court case sparked by the agency’s use of photos during the 2010 Haitian earthquake have provided a striking example of the way management reserves special treatment for its favoured allies.
We have long fought the "often immoral and sometimes illegal" methods used by management. We have done so in our statements, in our action in the statutory union-management forums - where we take part regularly and assertively - and in negotiations whenever possible. But we have also taken cases, often successfully, to the relevant outside authorities, be it the French labour inspectorate, human rights and data privacy bodies and of course the Labour Courts. Not forgetting higher courts, all the way up to the Constitutional Council.

All of this points to one conclusion: it is high time that AFP had the same rules and benefits for everyone. Nothing could be worse than letting the present set-up, with its dreary train of back-scratching, insider dealing and cronyism, continue.

Which is why we intend to call management’s bluff when they claim to be willing to negotiate "openly and transparently" on "working hours, salaries, career plans and labour organisation".

Ever since SUD won the right to take part in union-management talks at AFP, we have always sought to counter regressive changes, suggest alternatives and to actively contribute towards drawing up agreements - even ones which we decide, in the end, not to sign.

Staff Interests Are Paramount

In taking part in these talks for a "New Social Contract", SUD will consistently defend the interests of staff against those of the bean counters. We will seek to shed fresh light on the various issues under discussion, and will show not only that staff have already taken enough knocks, but that fresh sacrifices would also further endanger the founding mission of our agency.

SUD will seek to move these talks forward, looking for common ground and points of agreement (or disagreement) to help end arbitrary and illegal situations.

Our union represents all staff categories at AFP: blue-collar operatives, white-collar technicians, administrative workers and of course journalists, including freelancers. On that basis we will combat any attempts to play off some types of staff against others and will insist that everyone, whatever their job, their status or their labour contract, should be treated equally.

With SUD taking part in these talks you can be sure that your benefits and labour rights will not be sold off to the lowest bidder. We will dig in - and of course we will keep you informed as we always have, on the state of play. But if we are to both defend our existing rights and win new ones, staff unity will be essential.

Paris, December 2, 2013

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