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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: « Nous ne sommes pas la police des étrangers »

by Matthieu Delporte

French Factory Inspectors Say: "We are not the Immigration Police"

Translated Saturday 18 August 2007, by JD Moore

The French Government intends to use workplace inspectors to check up on workers lacking proper documentation.

“Workplace inspectors do not make the rules” commented Prime Minister François Fillon yesterday morning on the French TV station RTL, in response to a question from the trade union representatives of the department of employment.

“It is up to the Government to decide whether or not the immigration minister directives to workplace inspectors not for civil servants, whose role is to apply the policies chosen by the French public,” the Prime Minister continued.

These comments come in the wake of an appeal lodged to the Conseil D’Etat, the highest court in the administrative legal system, by the four major trade union organisations in France - the CGT, the CFDT, SNU-TEF and SUD Travail – together representing the views of 80% of workplace inspectors. The appeal was made against a Government ruling concerning the jurisdiction of the new minister of immigration, integration, national identity and co-development.

“This ruling outlines the areas of jurisdiction concerning workers without proper documentation” explained Martine Corneloup of the CGT (Confédération Général du Travail). “It creates a category of indictable offence that isn’t provided for in French law and exists neither in the Criminal Code nor the Labour Code. It is our opinion that this ruling is discriminatory. Every foreigner is viewed as a potential illegal alien. The ruling is an incitement to ethnic discrimination”.

The trade unions say that this new legal category contravenes European and international law as well as the provisions enshrined in the French Constitution and in French law. Moreover, this ruling places workplace inspectors under the jurisdiction of the ministry for "immigration and national identity" thereby violating a number of provisions outlined in the agreement No.81 of the ILO (International Labour Organization), a guarantee of the independence of the role of workplace inspectors.

What seems to be happening is that the Government is looking to exploit the workplace inspectors’ right to freely enter work premises and to use this right to to hunt down illegal workers.

“This is an unacceptable blurring of roles” said Karim Abed of the CFDT (Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail). “We are not refusing to work with the police but having said that, we are not immigration police. We simply ensure adherence to the Labour Code “. The workers’ organisations fear that the inspectors’ role could be exploited with a view to penalizing workers without proper documentation whereas in fact - says Karim Abed - “It’s the employer who is responsible for this kind of thing”. This kind of exploitation would contravene Article 17 of the ILO’s agreement no.81 which states that “It shall be left to the discretion of labour inspectors to give warning and advice instead of instituting or recommending proceedings.” Bearing in mind the repeal of the new job contract legislation, it looks like the ILO could be a real headache for the Sarkozy government.

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