France: employment law ruled to be in breach of international law

Anti-CPE protest gare st Charles, Marseille, March 23 2006

The Appeal Court in Paris has ruled that the CNE is in violation of international employment law.

The CNE is an employment law that allows workers in small businesses with fewer than 20 employees to be kept on a two-year probationary period during which they can be fired without reason. It is the sister law of the CPE which triggered waves of strikes, blockades, demonstrations and occupations across France in 2005-6

The Court ruled that the two-year probationary period was in contravention of convention 158 of the International Labour Organisation, calling the two-year period "unreasonable".

"The CNE deprives the employee of his basic rights with regard to dismissal...this delay [the two-year period] which runs counter to the fundamental principles of the right to work, drawn from jurisprudence and recognised by the law, deprives the employee of the guarantee to exercise his right to work."

"...in the fight against unemployment, protecting employees' jobs seems to be, at the very least, as relevant as giving the employer methods to dismiss them.. It is at the least contradictory to encourage hiring by making dismissal easier."

The Court had to rule on the issue after an employment tribunal in Longjumeau in the Essonne region ruled that a CNE contract should be changed into a permanent one (CDI) as the CNE contract was in breach of international law.

The Villepin government had intended toprevent legal challenges using the status of the CNE, which unlike the CPE was not voted on by parliament. However the jurisdictional court ruled that the matter must be settled within the legal system.

The government must now decide whether to challenge the ruling in the highest appeal court or to abandon the CNE. The Ministry of Employment has acknowledged the ruling but is yet to oficially react to the news.

The Unions (FO, CGT, CFTC) who funded the case, are understandably very pleased with the victory. The President of Medef, the employers' association complained that "one of the principle reasons for the ruling seems to be based upon an economic analysis rather than a legal one."

Between 360000 and 400000 workers are currently employed on CNE contracts.

The ruling will also please many who felt that the anti-CPE movement should not have stopped until the CNE was also repealed, although the method of victory is obviously less pleasing.

The full text in French of the ruling is available here.