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CEO attacks our wages and benefits! (Negotiations Information Bulletin 8)

Friday 3 July 2015

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

AFP’s chief executive Emmanuel Hoog announced on Friday July 3 his intention to denounce, or to void, all 117 collective bargaining agreements that concern the wages and benefits of staff working on French contracts. This comes as no surprise. As much as it is a declaration of war on staff, it is an admission of defeat by the CEO of his management of AFP. Thanks to the new dispensation whereby the agency is under the double supervision of the European Commission and the French government, with only part of its activities defined as a public interest mission, the agency’s financial health is no longer secure. M. Hoog’s aim of continually cutting costs, which mostly means cutting wages and benefits, can only fail.

An excerpt from AFP’s just-signed Aims and Means Contract (COM) for 2014-2018: “Between 2009 and 2013, wage costs increased by an average of 1.7% annually while the COM had foreseen an increase of 2.84% annually. This substantial but insufficient effort to rein-in costs must be continued and intensified.

So here is management’s objective in replacing all previous accords by what it calls a “Grand social pact”: to keep wage and operating cost growth to under 1% annually, an aim laid down in the new COM without taking into account either the professional or social needs of the agency.

Management launched earlier this year preliminary negotiations on a new benefits deal under the pretense of “simplification” and more “equity” between the different categories of employees at AFP. What we have seen during the course of the negotiations the past few months is that management’s real objective is to increase our work hours while reducing wages and benefits. These were not real negotiations, but a forced march of discussions. There was no real negotiating, let alone concessions by management. It incorporated only minor suggestions from unions and did not shift from its position on major proposals such as stripping most people of RTT days off. It did not even incorporate into the text its own proposal on guaranteeing wage increases. Management’s text was not acceptable to any of the unions which participated in the talks: SUD, CFDT and SNJ. The CGT, FO and CFE-CGC unions boycotted the talks. [1]

What next?

Under French labour law, AFP management now has to officially notify its decision to denounce the existing accords to the Works Committee, then send letters to the trade unions. Once that is done, there is a period of 15 months during which new agreements must be negotiated. In the meantime, the current accords remain valid.

Only the six unions which received a sufficient percentage of votes in last year’s staff elections to be considered representative may sign any new agreement. [2]

Under the law, a new wage and benefits deal only needs the signature of unions representing 30% of the employees to enter into force, unless unions representing at least 50% of the votes unite to block the agreement.

Management is clearly hoping to divide and conquer, offering limited and targeted concessions to get a deal approved, and equally important, not blocked.
That may be the more important threshold as the three unions which have so far boycotted the talks (CGT, FO and CFE-CGC) have just enough votes to block any deal. Add in SUD, and that climbs to over 62 percent.

This underlines the primordial importance of unions showing a united front: only together do we have the leverage to reach the best deal possible on wages and benefits.

It is also important we resist the siren song of being reasonable, the fatalism that sacrifices are inevitable, and the logic that cooperation is the best way to limit the damage and save the agency. It is a false logic. Cooperation will only lead us to making more sacrifices than we already have and trap us in a spiral of making more and more sacrifices to keep AFP afloat while the state avoids putting the agency on a firm financial footing.

After us, the deluge

A failure to reach a new wage and benefit agreement during the 15-month negotiating period would not be a doomsday scenario for staff employed by AFP at the time the old accords were denounced — but it would be disastrous for all new hires, who would have to put up with new, reduced rights defined by management. That is why we cannot simply count on the legal blocking power of the main unions. The result would likely be a two-speed AFP.

It would also be at best a Pyrrhic victory for the CEO: providing some savings, but only by creating even further inequality. It would make management even more complicated instead of simplifying it. It would have other nefarious effects like discouraging mobility among journalists on existing French contracts – who would want to take those postings abroad on local status if when you return it is on a new contract with markedly worse terms?

Unacceptable act of hostility

The denouncing of our wage and benefits agreements is an unacceptable act of hostility. We need to respond before the CEO carries through on his intention to void the agreements. Only by a show of strength today can we defend what our colleagues won for us in the past. Both for us, and for the aspiring journalists of tomorrow who want to make a career in this vitally important profession without taking a vow of poverty and forswearing having families.

A staff assembly has been called for Tuesday July 7 at 2:30 pm (1230 GMT) to declare a 24-hour strike, renewable until the CEO backs down on his intention to cancel our wage and benefits agreements.

Together we can prevail!

Paris, July 3, 2015
SUD-AFP (Union syndicale SUD Culture & Médias Solidaires)

See also Strike statement from four unions, including SUD
NB: As of July 6, all the unions were calling for a 24-hour strike.


[1See our review of the results of the talks, in French: http://u.afp.com/Nego7

[2The results published by management were false. See the details here in French: http://u.afp.com/Res2014