France: The Government Attacks the Unemployed: No matter the cost… but for whom?

AP Photo/Claude Paris

March 8, 2021 Editorial of the Etincelle newsletters

As a result of covid, the government gave up on the unemployment benefits cut originally scheduled for April 1, 2020. Nevertheless, Labor Minister Elisabeth Borne announced that this unemployment insurance reform will take effect on July 1. One part of the bill will not take effect: the part that would penalize bosses taking advantage of workers with precarious contracts; this part has been postponed until 2022, an election year. Only, the unemployment insurance reduction will take place.

Is the government against unemployment or against unemployed workers?

The government claims that this reform will serve to fight against the unemployed who “take advantage” of unemployment. As if being unemployed were a choice, especially in the current context! According to the National Professional Union for Employment in Industry and Trade (Unedic) 840,000 people (38% of those receiving benefits) will thus experience a drop in benefits, by 20% on average, and for some their benefits may be cut in half. For a person laid off after having two three-month fixed-term contracts paid at the minimum wage over the last 24 months, benefits will drop from 975 euros to 659 euros. The daily wage used as a reference point to calculate the benefits will take periods of inactivity into account, whereas today only paid periods are taken into account. Jobseekers alternating between short contracts and inactivity will suffer the most.

A reform that has nothing to do with the fight against job insecurity.

The bosses are responsible for unemployment: in 2020, 360,000 jobs were lost in the private sector alone. The number of unemployed is expected to increase further with the end of part-time work schemes. Even Antoine Foucher, former director of the cabinet of the Minister of Labor and one of the main architects of the unemployment reform in 2019, acknowledges that this is not the time to implement the reform and that “the job seekers will experience a heavy feeling of injustice“.

If the government really wanted to fight job insecurity, it would go after those who use public subsidies to upgrade their facilities and lay off workers, and those who repeatedly hire on fixed-term contracts, or on a temporary basis, instead of creating necessary permanent jobs.

But the penalty planned for the the latter case on unemployment contributions is postponed to 2022 and the activities strongly affected by the pandemic are excluded from the scheme altogether.

This reform is expected to bring in less than 1.3 billion euros per year. Compare this to the 17.4 billion-euro deficit of Unedic in 2020 due to financing partial unemployment. In total, by the end of July 2020, 470 billion euros were mobilized to help the bosses; in addition, another 100-billion-euro recovery plan is set to launch in September. So why this sudden announcement of a reform that will only bring a drop of water to the coffers, but will push the most precarious people deeper into poverty?

By attacking the unemployed, who will be pushed to accept contracts at any price, even poorly paid, even with deplorable working conditions, the government is putting downward pressure on the working conditions of all workers.

The real emergencies

The real urgency at this time is to strengthen safety nets to protect workers from the crisis.

  • There should already be a ban on layoffs.
  • Secondly, no one should live on less than 1,500 euros per month: this is the minimum amount that the government allocates to all bar and restaurant owners. Why isn’t what’s good for them good for workers who are out of work?

The bosses began their offensive by laying off workers, and now the government continues this offensive by reducing unemployment benefits. What will be next? The lowering of all salaries, and the abolition of the minimum wage?

Will this reform be too much, the one that will make us angry and forces them to stop their attacks? We can only hope so.