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Still falling short of enforcing basic labour code provisions

by Agnes a Paris Sun Apr 30th, 2006 at 09:32:53 AM EST

I often post here on ET to convey my indignation and also sense of powerlessness witnessing the evils plaguing people whose only sin is to have been born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Distress is the common fate in war zones of sub-Saharan Africa, in modern cities brothels, and often, right next door to my comfy armchair. Today is not exception, and the situation I am relating concerns someone I met this morning while shopping at a house decoration boutique in the street nearby. Heavy rain is pouring over Paris and I was the only customer in the store so I had a chat with the young woman attending to it.

What she revealed speaks for itself as to the appalling imbalances between those working for small businesses (less that 50 people in headcount as per the French breakdown of business categories) and people like me who are lucky enough to be employed by big companies, more likely to remain under scrutiny when it comes to compliance with the basic rules of labour regulations. The former are much more at risk to fall pray to dishonest, crooked employers who take advantage of their dominant position to force their employees into situations that blatantly disregard the minima provisions of the labor code.

No groundbreaking news, tomorrow is May the 1st, which among bank holiday is the one that should see people rest, for sake of the spirit of this day. In my company, people who will be working tomorrow (Capital markets IT support staff for traders on Asian stock exchanges, to mention only that example) will be properly compensated both in salary and recovery days. Indeed, in France, May the first is regarded as a Sunday and a bank holiday, hence the recovery day of both cumulate to entitle them to 2 days off. As far as payroll matters are concerned, the minimum legal obligation is a 150% daily wage. In some companies, industry agreements or internal agreements provide for extra compensations when the obligation to work on may the 1st was notified upon short notice.

The French labour code also provides for a maximum 5 day period of on-going activity.
The young woman I talked with was informed yesterday that she would have to work tomorrow. She will thus have been working for 7 days in a row before she takes her one-day weekly break, which happens to be Wednesday. Her request for being able to take ONE day compensation for working tomorrow was brutally dismissed on the grounds that Monday is a regular working day in her schedule.

She is mother to a 3-month baby. Both her request for part time work, and ability to leave work one hour earlier, which are also legal in France until the child is 3, were  dismissed and she was threatened of being fired. These requests she made after a social worker informed her of those rights, which she had been ignorant of thus so far and consequently unable to claim.
I spent some time with her providing practical advice as to the ways out of the situation. She seemed on the edge of exhaustion and I felt truly for her, so I tried to provide practical advice as to her means of recourse and ways out of situation. I also tried to talk her out of her fear to be made redundant should she express any request. Keep in mind that these requests would have the mere result of bringing her employer back into the boundaries of legality.
We need not look very far to witness  the legal and work safety net loopholes, even in a modern and rather social conscious country like France. Even if things have improved beyond comparison since mine and textile factory workers fought for their rights, a lot of progress remains to be done. Employers will be employers, and the bodies in charge of ensuring  work regulations are duly enforced and complied with are so under staffed that  reckless employers will continue to thrive on their being in a position to intimidate poorly informed employees.

How is it like in your country ? What are the basic labour code provisions regulating working on bank holidays and adapting working hours to specific family situations ? Do you feel these regulations are complied with ? Have you witnesses caese similar to the one I depicted ? The thread is yours.

Thanks for this diary, Agnès,

It is important to remind us that, for all the social regulations we have, the fight for decent working conditions and the respect of employees is a day to day task.

This story underlines the necessity of unionisation development among SMEs' employees, a strategy (too) recently adopted by the French unions.


"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Sun Apr 30th, 2006 at 02:30:54 PM EST
We are seeing it more everywhere (in big and small companies)...we have talked about it a lot around here lately (see the Pfaff article this weekend in IHT)...more and more, people are afraid to confront their employers illegal activities because they are afraid they will be fired. I have a friend who is basically required by her company to work longer hours than she should with no breaks...and when she brought this to the note of the companies HR (who said it was illegal), the senior management got angry and threatening. It's appalling...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon May 1st, 2006 at 03:22:58 AM EST
You always write very resonating diaries, Agnes. This one was not different.

The Netherlands do not have many "bank holidays", or at least, certainly not compared to the more Mediterranean countries as Spain and Italy! There are national celebrations, like the recent Koninginnedag. Next Friday, 5 May, we celebrate the liberation of WWII - but for government employees this is only once every five years (!!). Most shops, however, are closed - excepting, perhaps, supermarkets and bars and such.

As to regulations, I know little real examples from the work floor, small business employees. I just seem to move into different circles. The most recent example I've heard about was about Polish workers who were kept unaware about such regulations that they would get paid for sickleave - just to keep them working longer. So clearly the possibility to abuse remains steady.

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Mon May 1st, 2006 at 04:58:03 AM EST
Thank you for the compliment and for the insight. Indeed, as whaboutbob pointed out, even when people are aware of what is legal and what is not, the balance of power between employees and the management is all to often to the advantage of the latter.
Hence the reason why unions should be empowered and in France, they are still unpopular because of a "strike first then consider negotiation" history. Consequently, employees are reluctant to join them, losing sight of the fact that it could benefit them at the end of the day.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Mon May 1st, 2006 at 08:49:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Regulations are variably enforced around the area I live in, here in the UK. The split between insiders and outsiders will always take in some small businesses I imagine, particularly those in retail. Our 24/7 consumer society puts a lot of pressure on small retailers which all to often then is passed on to their staff.

However, the big split in the UK is one between the "normal economy" and the "grey/black" one. There are a whole host of businesses from mini-cabs (a kind of taxi but regulated differently) to a lot of the food processing industry that frequently operates outside the law, often with illegal immigrant labour. These are the most exploited workers in UK society.

One other category that springs to mind is the cleaning industry (office cleaners etc.) which is the scene of dreadful abuses. Again, illegal immigrants are often used, but also, conscious efforts are made to keep people under various working and monetary limits to ensure they do not acquire extra working rights. The relatively unskilled nature of the workforce (please note, not the job, the job done properly requires care and attention and skill does lead to greater productivity) is also used as a tool to abuse employees. By keeping the skill base low, there is a steady supply of potential workers and thus those in the job are always in fear of losing it. So, when asked to come in on Bank Holiday Monday (for example) and told "no overtime, it's normal work" then often, the employee feels they have little choice.

The use of newly arrived immigrants with poor English skills in cleaning also contributes to the ability of employers to defraud them of rightful employee protections.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon May 1st, 2006 at 05:14:40 AM EST
Today, May 1st, is not a holiday in the US. Labor day here is on the first Monday of September believe it or not. However, speaking of immigrant labor rights today is

"El Gran Paro Americano 2006" "The Great American Boycott 2006"

"Un dia sin immigrante" "A day without an immigrant"

Nationwide General Immigrant Strike!
Wear White T-Shirt at May 1st!

This is a follow up to the demonstrations of April 10th. Click on photo for more details and source.

First a thank you:

RICHARD RODRIGUEZ reporting (April 5th 2006):

In the noisy argument over what to do with illegal immigrants, the common assumption is that America has done a great deal for them already. The question now is what more should we give them? Should we give them a green card? Grant them amnesty? Or stop all this generosity and send them packing?

No one speaks of what illegal immigrants have done for us. It occurs to me I've not heard two relevant words spoken. If you will allow me, I will speak them.

Thank you.

Thank you for turning on the sprinklers. Thank you for cleaning the swimming pool and scrambling the eggs and doing the dishes. Thank you for making the bed. Thank you for getting the children up and ready for school. Thank you for picking them up after school. Thank you for caring for our dying parents.

Thank you for plucking dead chickens. Thank you for bending your bodies over our fields. Thank you for breathing chemicals and absorbing chemicals into your bodies. Thank you for the lettuce, and the spinach, and the artichokes, and the asparagus, and the cauliflower, the broccoli, the beans, the tomatoes and the garlic. Thank you for the apricots, and the peaches, and the apples, and the melons, and the plums, the almonds and the grapes.

Thank you for the willow trees, and the roses and the winter lawn. Thank you for scraping, and painting, and roofing and cleaning out the asbestos and the mold. Thank you for your stoicism and your eager hands.

Thank you for all the young men on rooftops in the sun. Thank you for cleaning the toilets and the showers, and the restaurant kitchens, and the schools, and the office buildings, and the airports and the malls. Thank you for washing the car. Thank you for washing all the cars.

Thank you for your parents, who died young and had nothing to bequeath to their children but the memory of work. Thank you for giving us your youth. Thank you for the commemorative altars. Thank you for the food, the beer the tragic polka.


Richard Rodriguez is an editor for New California Media, the consortium of ethnic news organizations. He's also the author of the book BROWN: THE LAST DISCOVERY OF AMERICA.

The New York times reports about how employer are bracing themselves for today's action and trying to urge employees to come to work by providing means for them to "demonstrate" while at work. Most leaders in the immigrant community are all calling for action but divided on what it should be:

Would large numbers of immigrants stay away from their jobs, from schools and from spending money for what some organizers are calling the Great American Boycott of 2006? Or would more simply attend demonstrations, prayer services and voter registration drives on International Workers Day, as other leaders, who do not support a boycott, have urged?....

In Los Angeles, the police prepared for hundreds of thousands of people to attend demonstrations, while smaller rallies were expected in other West Coast cities. Some advocates in Los Angeles have pressed for a full boycott, while other leaders there, including Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, the archbishop of Los Angeles, have urged a milder approach.... leaders in Chicago said their events would focus broadly on immigration reform, labor rights and civil rights, and would include groups -- people of Polish, Chinese and Irish descent -- beyond the Latino base that has overwhelmingly attended earlier demonstrations.
Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/01/us/01immig.html?hp&ex=1146542400&en=ee70dc2a1ef08c0e&e i=5094&partner=homepage

For those of you dying to get the FT take on all this here it is.

by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Mon May 1st, 2006 at 10:45:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
An additional dimension to some smaller businesses is also family or family like ties which create a sense of obligation to the business and another reason why labor laws are not applied.
by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Mon May 1st, 2006 at 10:53:31 AM EST

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