At the headquarters of Derichebourg aéronautics in the Toulouse conurbation. This company is considering a "collective performance agreement" to respond to the crisis - Remy Gabalda / AFP

  • The government invites companies to negotiate so-called "collective performance" agreements to adjust working hours and wages. One way to save money, especially in this period of coronavirus crisis.
  • Such negotiations would ultimately “create more jobs,” says Agnès Pannier-Runacher, Secretary of State to the Minister of Economy and Finance.
  • An assertion to qualify: certain precedents show that the efforts of competitiveness of the employees, in particular in industry, did not prevent layoffs. The economic context and business prospects of companies play a key role in the advisability of such agreements.

Less than a month after the start of the deconfinement, employees are already invited to pay for the broken pots of the crisis born of the coronavirus pandemic. Derichebourg Aeronautics, a subcontractor of Airbus, has announced that it wants to cut 13th months, allowances and bonuses in addition to the planned job cuts. Same desire for wage savings on the side of Malta Air, Maltese subsidiary of the Ryanair group, which wants to reduce the remuneration of some 180 cabin crew for five years, but also that of its pilots, according to RTL. Otherwise, the management is threatening layoffs in France.

Since the reform of the 2017 Labor Code, a legal tool available to companies has made it easier to review such achievements: these are collective performance agreements (APCs). Provided they are signed by the unions (or in their absence by the CSE, and failing that by two-thirds of the employees in small businesses), they prevail over the clauses present in individual employment contracts. A small revolution in labor law which implies that an employee who refuses these changes can be dismissed by the company.

New from prescriptions

In the current context, the public authorities are promoting this tool to avoid going directly to redundancies. "Ultimately, these negotiations will create more jobs," even assured France Inter Secretary of State Agnès Pannier Runacher.

Is it worth the effort? Some unions doubt it. If the question arises so much in France, it is because it is "a radically new type of agreement," explains Christian Pellet, director of Sextant, an expertise firm which advises social and economic committees. These agreements imply knowing how to negotiate and to compromise, which is not in French culture ”. Under the Holland five-year term, job retention agreements were possible. But the system was more restrictive for companies, who were given counterparties (no redundancies, efforts by shareholders, etc.) It made a flop: barely 10 agreements were signed in 2015, against “more than 300” for the new formula adopted in 2017, according to the Minister of Labor, Muriel Pénicaud.

Bitter potion for unions

"This can give a chance, in theory, to preserve employment. These agreements allow companies to do their utmost before opting for a social, brutal and traumatic plan, ”explains Christian Pellet. But the unions fear the bitter potion. “These agreements can make it possible to plan the social benefits of employees in a secure manner, while being sure that a reduction in costs will take place, since employees are also likely to refuse the agreement and therefore leave the company. It's the double kiss-cool effect, ”he continues. Even in the context of these performance agreements, redundancies are therefore possible.

And if the unions are wary, it is also because this method has the air of deja vu. If the collective performance agreement is very new, some companies had already, in the past, negotiated working hours and remuneration with the unions with the aim of protecting jobs. With more or less positive outcomes. According to Yves Veyrier, the number one in FO, there are “past examples where employees have been forced, through a form of job blackmail, to accept lower wages (…) for in the end that jobs are nevertheless cut. "

Unhappy experiences

This is the case of Mahle Behr, an automotive supplier based in Rouffach (Haut-Rhin), who was one of the first to sign, in 2013, a job retention agreement. He planned a freeze on wages for three years and a decrease, from 15 to 10, in the number of days of RTT. The key: a less important social plan than announced. A second agreement followed in 2016. Despite this, the company did not get out of the rut. At the end of 2019, the company announced a social plan. "The multiple efforts made by the employees have not changed anything, hence the general feeling of having been abused," explained union representatives in Latest News from Alsace , end of 2019. Competition from Eastern European countries , absence of a project: over time, the employees of this company have suffered the blow, losing their illusions as to the usefulness of their sacrifices.

Experiences that are remembered. "In the case of Mahle Behr, the unions ended up changing their opinion on the interest of these agreements, analyzes Jean-Christophe Scilien, professor of management at Paris-Nanterre University. When the margin is reached too much, and that the turnover drops too much, one can estimate that such efforts by the employees were, in fine , useless ”.

Risk taking

However, this is an ex post facto assessment . “When unions sign this type of agreement, they do not have this visibility. Especially since sometimes, things are played out on elements that no one can predict. In the case of Mahle Behr, the 2013 agreement was to be used to win a call for tenders, which they ultimately did not obtain, "continues this connoisseur of the automotive industry.

Counterexamples also exist, such as the case of Chantiers Navals de Saint-Nazaire, some unions of which agreed in 2013 to give RTT days. “This allows, at a time when the company is threatened, to show that it is able to gain competitiveness. At the time, this put them back on a dynamic, ”says Christian Pellet, of Sextant Expertise. But the signing of the agreement also came in a more buoyant context: that of a “favorable conjuncture with a booming cruise market”, recognized in 2016 the CFDT.

Cash issues

The impact of such  deals therefore depends on the situation of the company, but also on the context. What should we think, then, of collective performance agreements in this pandemic context? For Jean-Christophe Scilien, they can be a way to avoid filing for bankruptcy likely to hang in the nose of companies after the vacuuming of containment: "In small companies, this can be a major element of survival, when the bank refuses to grant a loan and the threat is bankruptcy ”.

On the other hand, in the larger structures, which have cash and loans guaranteed by the State, "the urgency is less," he recognizes. In all cases, “these collective performance agreements will work as soon as we know that there will be work in the long term. If the crisis is deeper, the negotiated agreement will be useless, it will be called into question ”.

Effective in the event of counterparties

Associate researcher at the Center for Employment and Labor Studies (CEET), Catherine Spieser calls for caution. "We can think that performance agreements can improve the situation of the company in the margin compared to the competition, but in the current crisis, this is not the main problem", explains the sociologist, who studied the effects of the 2008-2009 crisis.

"On the other hand, work on company negotiations of the" competitiveness-employment "type in other countries, notably in Germany, has shown that it is only when they are accompanied by a real commitment from management. to preserve the sites that employment is durably preserved ”, she continues. This notably involves "reorienting production", "necessary investments with a horizon going beyond the short term". And orders ... Not easy in the current period.


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