France: main coalitions put wages and pensions at centre of social programmes for the legislative elections

On 30 June and 7 July, the people of France will elect their MPs following Emmanuel Macron's dissolution of the National Assembly on 9 June. We have compared the programmes of the three main blocs (the president's coalition, the left and the far right) on matters including wages, pensions, employment, gender equality and working hours.

Through Antoine Piel, Nathalie Tran. Published on 26 June 2024 Ă  17h44 - Update on 02 July 2024 Ă  16h20

The parties only had a few days to prepare their programmes, with President Emmanuel Macron choosing the shortest constitutional deadline for organising the legislative elections, the first round of which will take place three weeks after the dissolution on 9 June. The proposals from the three main political blocs are therefore fewer in number and less detailed than for the 2022 presidential election. For example, working time and industrial relations are not mentioned by two of the three coalitions, and disability does not feature in any of their programmes.

Wages and pensions take centre stage

One year on from the pension reform that saw the statutory retirement age raised from 62 to 64 in the face of a major social protest movement, the subject is becoming a key issue for opponents of Emmanuel Macron. Opposed to the reform, the New Popular Front (NFP) and the National Rally (RN) are both proposing its repeal, with the former setting a "target of the right to retire at 60". The far-right party, for its part, suggests a progressive retirement system that takes into account the real hardship of low-skilled jobs, while the NFP argues in favour of reinstating hardship factors.

On salaries, the oppositions are different: the presidential camp and the RN are united in favour of encouraging wage growth by cutting taxes and contributions on low salaries (€2,000 for the former and three times the minimum wage for the latter). The president's Ensemble coalition is also proposing to raise the ceiling for the value-sharing bonus, which is exempt from tax and contributions, to €10,000 a year. In 2023, 5.9 million employees received this bonus, with an average amount of €885. The NFP is proposing to raise the minimum wage to €1,600 net (+14.4%), to organise a social conference on wages and to index wages to inflation, as is the case in Belgium.

Re-industrialisation and skills adaptation

As far as employment is concerned, the reindustrialisation of France features in the programmes of Ensemble and the NFP. The presidential majority is committed to continuing the work already underway in this area and has set a target of creating 200,000 new industrial jobs and 400 additional factories by 2027. The latest assessment published in May by the Ministry of the Economy and Finance shows that 108,000 new jobs have already been created in industry by 2022. To encourage job creation, Ensemble is also proposing to simplify administrative procedures for VSEs and SMEs, and to support those experiencing difficulties in repaying their state-guaranteed loans taken out during the pandemic, to enable them to restructure their debt. To make up for the skills shortage, it also plans to encourage the arrival of leading researchers, doctors, high-potential students and skilled workers. With this in mind, the NFP is announcing the regularisation of immigrant workers. The left-wing parties also want to launch a social conference on qualifications. The RN, for its part, promises to provide financial support for young people and companies opting for apprenticeships or work-study courses, and to adapt initial and ongoing training provision to the needs of professional sectors.

Working time, gender equality and CSR: areas of distinction

Several themes are absent from all three coalitions' programmes. On working time, the bloc of left-wing parties plans to organise a national conference on work in order to debate a move to 32 hours for arduous jobs and to promote it through collective bargaining. On the other hand, while the Ensemble programme makes no mention of this, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal announced at a press conference on 20 June that he wanted to experiment with a four-day week for employees who cannot work remotely. The idea is not to reduce working hours, but to spread them over four days instead of five, along the lines of the system introduced in Belgium. In France, a similar experiment has already been carried out in 2023 at the URSSAF (organisation for the collection of social security and family benefit contributions) in Picardy on a voluntary basis, but without much success.

Gender equality is only mentioned by Ensemble in terms of birth leave, which would replace parental leave. The NFP wants to introduce equal pay, without specifying how, and proposes to create a menstrual leave scheme, which has been in operation in Spain since 2023. The RN does not address this issue. Ensemble also wants to develop the practice of "testing" (checking that companies do not discriminate in recruitment), by taking up a draft law tabled in 2023. The NFP stands out for wanting to combat social dumping at European level, by proposing to extend employees' "right to intervene" in companies and to include burn-out on the list of occupational illnesses. The bloc also wants to extend the vigilance duty by regulating subcontracting and making aid to companies conditional on social, environmental and anti-discrimination criteria.  

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