French worker occupation wins respite but Hollande faces trouble on jobs front

Reuters/Philippe Laurenson

France’s new Socialist government has won a stay of execution for a Unilever factory occupied by workers earlier this month. But another factory closure was announced Friday and several other companies are threatening job losses, as Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault prepares to meet bosses and unions to discuss labour policy.


Arnaud Montebourg, the Socialist Party left-winger who holds the newly created post of minister of industrial recovery, was given a hero’s welcome by workers at Fralib in Gémenos, near Marseille, on Friday when he visited them to announce that Unilever has agreed to return to talks to save their jobs.

On Quoi.Info: the map of possible job losses in France

The multinational has also agreed not to act on a court order to evacuate the premises until the end of June.

The 182 workers at the Fralib site produced Lipton teabags and herbal teas and, after a 605-day battle to save their jobs, want to form a workers’ cooperative. The initiative is backed by local government but opposed by Unilever, which says it will neither subcontract to them not part with the Eléphant label under which its herbal teas are marketed.

But there was bad news from Angers, in the west of France, where the Technicolor company declared that it intended to close a digital decoder factory employing nearly 330 people.

Technicolor, which has lost a contract with France Télécom, said Thursday that it is transferring operations to low-cost countries, such as China and Indonesia, after the European Union scrapped tariffs on non-EU decoders.

The company said that it would be unable to pay wages for May because a client had defaulted on payment of about a million euros per month, while saying that production could continue until September.

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Small business minister Fleur Pellerin is to meet unions on Tuesday, while local councillors have called on Montebourg to stop the declaration of bankruptcy.

Newly elected President François Hollande’s government faces major challenges on the employment front with one website estimating that 30,000 jobs are under threat across the country.

Air France this week declared its intention to shed 5,000 jobs and more redundancies are expected in the telecoms, retail and automobile sectors.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is to meet employers’ groups and trade unions on Tuesday ahead of a summit on labour issues to hosted by President François Hollande on Bastille Day, 14 July.

Unions, who frequently clashed with former president Nicolas Sarkozy, have welcomed a new era of dialogue but bosses are predictably less enthusiastic.

The government’s announcement that retirement at 60 would be restored to people who started work at 18-years-old and its promise to raise the minimum wage have aroused criticism from bosses’ union, Medef, which warns that raising employers' social security contributions could endanger small businesses.


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