Juggling the need to maintain economic activity with lockdown measures, i.e. balancing health and economic considerations, Laurent Berger, the secretary general of France’s biggest trade union, the CFDT, has called on management and the authorities to consult workers before making decisions during Covid-19 that will impact people’s lives for years to come.
Leaders League. How well have companies reacted as a whole to Covid-19? Where do you see things going from here?
Laurent Berger. There is a time for action and a time for analysis. Today, we find ourselves with an urgent need to take action. The very first assessment we can make is to note that we have passed, in a somewhat chaotic manner, from carelessness to anxiety. It is an anxiety that is shared by all, employees and business leaders: the fear of being infected, of being a carrier for the virus… to me, the critical issue from a labor point of view is that companies that have to remain open, because they provide our sustenance: the food trade, supply, transport, communication networks, etc. There has been some confusion regarding what falls under these essential activities. A clear and precise message must be delivered in order to establish safe working conditions for the entire workforce. Then, as for the safety arrangements, which are the precondition to sustain activities, they can be defined after public consultation.
Eyebrows were raised by the speed with which some companies furloughed staff.
There is no doubt that if there is a high level of recourse to short-time working, the €45 billion funding envelope would soon be exhausted.
What about the government's incentive to pay a bonus of €1,000 to those who physically go to work?
It should not be considered hazard pay. Health and preventive measures are still the top priorities. Nothing is more valuable than the lives of workers. But if a bonus is distributed to those who continue to work in sufficiently safe conditions, that would be good news, of course. However, this cannot be enacted on a national scale but must again be dealt with by talking to workers’ representatives. In this time of uncertainty, there is no other solution but to continue to converse.
How can social dialogue be maintained in these conditions? Is it not viewed as an obstacle in emergency situations?
Many companies have assembled their labor relations and economic committee; it is not so time-consuming or that complex. It is not a question of revisiting all working conditions but of implementing common sense safety measures, such as hand-washing and social distancing. Public consultation is not a hindrance but a question of safety. It means confronting the situation together, and recognizing that employees themselves are the ones who know their working conditions best.