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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Une loi qui empoisonne la santé

by Kareen Janselm

A Toxic Law, Poisonous to Health

Translated Tuesday 29 March 2016, by Adrian Jordan

In general session from Wednesday 16 to Thursday 17 March, the assembly for workers’ health warns against the problems which the El Khomri bill will exacerbate.

Duration, pattern and conditions of employment: the draft bill of the El Khomri law will have deleterious consequences on workers’ health. This is the incontestable, unanimous advice of the 500 health professionals and experts in the field, gathered since yesterday at the Paris Labour Exchange, in a grand council for workers’ health. While a new procedure takes shape that will complicate the procedure for establishing work-related illness, the draft employment bill gives increasing power to employers to force workers to adapt to suit the business, in a background of increasing instability and shortening of fixed term contracts. Even the sacrosanct permanent contract loses some of its safeguards.

The government turns a deaf ear

“With the El Khomri bill, workers will find themselves at the beck and call of their employers, with working hours no longer being defined by contract, but instead by the employer”, warns lawyer Alexandra Soumeire of the French lawyers’ union, SAF. “Variation of working hours will impose an alternation between periods of long working hours with periods of shorter working hours, but without paying for the extra hours worked.” In fact, by internal company agreement, which can now last for three years, workers may work more than 40 hours per week, leading to obvious consequences on personal life and health, with no means of opting out. Currently, daily working hours are limited to 10 hours and cannot exceed 12 hours except under certain specific circumstances prescribed by law. With the new bill, working in excess of these hours will be permissible - for any reason in connection with the organisation of the company - by collective agreement.
Professionals point out the dangers of exhausting, illness inducing, imposed labour, with exposure to hazardous chemicals and occupational cancers, but the government is turning a deaf ear. “The official line is paradoxical”, notes Doctor Marie Pascual. “It advocates prevention but destroys social protection.” This new bill further chokes opposition. “Employers are relieved of responsibility for the fitness of their employees, their rehabilitation, and work-place adaptation”, adds lawyer, Elodie Touaillon-Hibon. “All responsibility now falls on the occupational physician. The text has replaced the notion of "job" by "post". The worker is considered to be a pawn. Once the employer has offered a position, he has met his obligations.” If the worker refuses the position, he/she must leave the company. Doctors denounce the change in their duties toward favouring employer objectives, to the detriment of employee protection. As for the guidance of the CHSCT (Health and Safety Committee), which could counter harmful company reorganisations, this could seeing its final days. After the attacks made by the Rebsamen law in April 2015, the El Khomri offensive is more direct: by contesting expert testimony in court, an employer can have it suspended. If the case goes to the Court of Appeal, or the Supreme Court, the affair can last several years... The expert testimony will not be followed, to the detriment of the suffering workforce. How can we then take up the offensive against employment that no longer emancipates but destroys? “Defending working conditions can be a common challenge” advanced Thomas Coutrot, researcher and spokesperson for pressure group, ATTAC. Perhaps this can be one of the principal ways in which to tackle this anti-work bill.

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