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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’égalité au travail régresse

by Cécile Rousseau

Equality at work in decline

Translated Wednesday 6 April 2011, by Sarah Peak and reviewed by Derek Hanson

Women’s equality

On 8 March 2011, members of government made an avalanche of declarations in favour of wage equality between men and women. Behind the media hype, women’s rights at work have never progressed so little.

“Sometimes women show less ambition than men” This chauvinist remark was let slip by François Fillon (French Prime Minister), whilst celebrating International Women’s Day. The French Prime Minister’s little sentence sparked agitation with his colleague Roselyne Bachelot (minister for Social Cohesion) and it says a lot about the policy led by the government, on professional equality. Today women earn on average 27% less than men, and represent 82% of part-time employees in France. If, for three years, the difference between the salaries of men and women has stopped being reduced, it is because the balance of the government is just about brushing sea level. The French Prime Minister, however, is playing the eternal optimist “the women’s cause has progressed a lot [...] but there are still battles to be won, and that of professional equality is one of them” he spouts, before emphasizing that no less than four laws have been voted in favour of women since 2007. Roselyne Bachelot would be in the process of implementing the law financially penalising companies of more than 50 employees that do not combat the difference in men’s and women’s salaries. The snag is that the first law of 2006 provided that companies begin to be sanctioned on 31 December 2010. But the government integrated the law in the redrafts reform to change its content and postpone the penalties until 2012.

The French Equal Opportunities and Anti-discrimination Commission (Halde) fixed this position by asking the government for the fast publication of the decree. Halde has also called for “a system for financial sanction for public employers that do not meet their obligations”. Xavier Bertrand (French minister for Labour, Employment and Health) had attempted to redeem himself the previous day, by announcing the publication of the decree before the summer. Nicolas Sarkozy could not help but put in his two cents, thinking that one day a year was not sufficient to combat the inequalities. “The main thing is to find, from jobs for men and women, a possibility of social promotion for both of them.” But behind the good intentions the government often does something different.

Paule Masson – Enough hypocrisy!

Laurence Parisot (head of the Movement of French Enterprises, or MEDEF) attempted a diversion to the left. In an interview in Elle magazine a few days previously the female boss of bosses asked for the appointment of a “Minister for Women’s Rights.” The last so-designated minister was the socialist Yvette Roudy in 1981. The president of MEDEF, Laurence Parisot, was gently slapped on the wrists and pulled back to the right by the minister for Labour, Xavier Bertrand, who does not think it is “the best solution”.

The exchange of pleasantries could bring a smile, but it calls for a grimace. Frankly if the bosses showed a bit of politeness, the problem of professional equality would quickly be on the road to being resolved. The president of MEDEF explains that her organisation reflected on the problems of the differences in salary. Here are, therefore, some measures that are up to employers to put in place: transform part-time workers (83% of which are women) into full-time workers with open-ended contracts; pay employees of equal value the same salary; accept to negotiate on professional equality in the companies and branches, which is far from being the case; stop more flexible working hours... So when Laurence Parisot declares herself “more and more feminist”, as she did in Elle, we will perhaps wish to believe her!

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