Is France burning?


You’d probably answer yes, if you’ve been looking at the news or following events in France over the last few months, but is it really the case?

At the moment France is burning. That’s how the media are largely portraying things. Some gas stations are running low or went empty for a few days. It seems the SNCF (they run the trains around France) are going to strike (again) and probably so the RATP (they run the metro in Paris). I just saw too that the pilot of Air France voted to strike as well. These are the same people that voted against Air France creating a low cost airline as they feared competition inside their own company.

Imagine that!

While it must be hard for Air France to compete against Easyjet or the other low cost airlines around Europe, the people that make up Air France (the employees) stood up against their own company who wanted to better compete in this new world of air travel. I’ll just leave that one to sit with you for a while.

So who are these employees that seemingly don’t want their companies to better compete with the competition. These people who strike because of a new labor law currently being considered in France?

Are these strikers the majority? 

No, they are the unions and unions represent a minority of the workers in France. Yet the unions still hold control.

Who gives them that control?

The government. (I’ll come back to this later)

So I mentioned a new labor law in France that is at the epicenter of the current unrest in France and which is the stick that the unions are using to punish the everyman.

Let’s have a look at the 4-5 main elements of this labor law:

  1. Overtime. If a company is experiencing an increase in activity, it can ask its employees to work more than the legally authorized 10-11 hours to 12 hours. But only if they agree (via an agreement with their unions)  and only for a maximum of 16 weeks. Here it is the company employees (the company’s unions) who have the final say and not the national unions. This is the most contested point and it is important to understand the nuance of who decides.
  2. Companies in difficulty: If a company is in difficulty it can now modulate salaries and work time in an effort to save jobs and save the company. this needs to be agreed by its employees (via their unions). If any employee doesn’t agree then the company can fire him/her, but needs to work with him/her to help him/her find another job.
  3. Small companies under 50 people can stop applying the 35hr work week, by enabling employees to work more per day if needed. However, employees will get compensated by more time off.
  4. Companies can call an employee referendum if they can’t get to an agreement with their unions.
  5. Layoff plans: There are new guidelines governing lay off plans.


I’ve heard the youth groups say this law will mean less jobs. I’ve heard people say you don’t create jobs by making it easier to fire people. Lay that out in the media and almost anyone will say yes that’s obvious this must be a bad law. But when you look at it a little deeper and you have experience in a company in France, you know that the truth is just the opposite.

Fallacies in the media/voice of the unions

  1. This new labor law will mean less jobs => false

Actually one of the reasons we hire less than we (my company) should or we hesitate before hiring people is that if it doesn’t work out then it can be next to impossible to get rid of the person. We have an assistant on our books who has been on sick leave for 10 years.

I have an employee who went on sick leave because someone in his/her team wrote something that he/she took offense to. The writer said he/she was trying to help out and didn’t mean it as an offense (and apologized). I read the email and it is harmless. These are just two examples of hundreds.

Sometimes relationships don’t work out. That’s life. But if the law makes it the responsibility of one person in that relationship to pay for the end of the relationship, then you get left with lots of relationships that keep on going but are dysfunctional.

If I could ask these people to leave and remunerate them within reason, then you can be damn sure I would replace them. Maybe they will find their happiness in another relationship. I assume they would. We all eventually do.

2. Employees will continue to be exploited => What century do you live in ?

This is one thing that continues to amaze me and I deal with unions everyday so I should be used to it. Common understanding in this country is that management are crooks, out to exploit their employees and take all the profits for themselves. Maybe the King did that, but today this is clearly the minority. Most business leaders I meet generally want everyone to share in the growth of their companies. Sure they want to make money themselves and by taking the risk of starting a company, they should be rewarded for that risk. But to make the leap and believe they are exploiting people to make their ill gotten gains is like believing in Santa Claus.

You build a company with people that are motivated and rewarded to build it with you. Anyone who does it any other way never succeeds.

So if these fallacies are easily shown not to be true why do the unions and companies still put on the show of fighting against each other?

Because the government puts on a big show about creating dialogue between management and employees (represented by unions) and just about every law in the country passes by this elaborate show of people negotiating, agreeing, fighting, compromising and taking pictures of themselves in the act.

The government feeds this notion, possibly because they don’t know how it really works in the corporate world, possibly because it panders to the voting man who likes to think laws should be passed with proper dialogue of all stakeholders. Probably because it was put in place after WW2 at a time it was needed. A time that has long since passed.

Whatever the reason, the apples are now all rotten and we need to plant a new tree.


France is not burning, the show that the government has put on is burning. The institutions and structures that have been put in place don’t work anymore and the man in the street is the first one to suffer. These institutions needs to be modified. New ones, current for their time need to be put in place and France needs a government body who understands this.

The air is blowing with change, but the question unanswered is whether France and its leadership are up for the challenge.












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