Employment legislation: Is it really easier to sack a worker in the UK than in France?

First they invaded us in 1066 and now the French are getting all our jobs. Well, that’s how it sometimes seems when you listen to the news at the moment.

Since Peugeot announced it was closing its Coventry car plant on 18 April 2006, unions and left-wing politicians have been painting a picture of brutal multinationals walking all over British employees while the French riot in the streets to protect their iron-clad working rights.

But are the UK’s labour laws really that out of kilter with those across the Channel?

Below, lawyer Felicity Gemson from London-based Allen & Overy speaks on behalf of the UK, while her Parisian colleague Fabien Pomart offers his thoughts on the situation in France.

  • Amicus claims: On average, it costs £100,000 to make a French worker redundant. In the UK, the maximum allowed for statutory redundancy is £5,000 for 20 years’ service.

Gemson: The maximum statutory redundancy payment is £8,700. In practice, many employers offer enhanced packages.

Pomart: The £100,000 figure is disproportionate. This may concern high level executives and a generous social compensation plan. A rough estimate of a redundancy package may vary between three months’ salary and a year’s.

  • Amicus claims: In France, there is a minimum period for consultation before more than 10 workers can be made redundant. In the UK, there is no such law.

Gemson: Collective consultation obligations are triggered in the UK when an employer proposes to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees at one establishment within a 90-day period.

Pomart: In France, where there is more than one employee and less than 10 employees affected, obligations to inform and consult the staff representatives also arise.

  • Amicus claims: In France, where more than 50 workers are at risk, the employer has to present a compensation plan to the unions. In the UK, there are no such laws.

Gemson: It is not quite as simple as Amicus suggests. Once the obligation to consult is triggered in the UK, the employer must consult “with a view to reaching an agreement” and must include ways of avoiding the redundancies.

Pomart: In France, the social compensation plan has to be negotiated rather than just presented to the staff representatives.

  • Amicus claims: There is a notice period of up to five months in France, and just three months in the UK.

Gemson: UK employees have a statutory notice of one week for every full year of service. They are entitled to their contractual notice or their statutory notice, whichever is the longer.

Pomart: Notice period durations are determined by the collective bargaining agreement provisions in France, and depend on the type of employee. Usually, the notice periods are between one month for blue-collar workers and three months for executives.

  • Amicus claims: In France, detailed information has to be provided to the government, which will ensure the employer has complied with all obligations and apply timetables for termination. In the UK, there are no such laws.

Gemson: Not strictly true. In the UK, employers are required to notify the Department of Trade and Industry at least 90 days before the first redundancies take effect, where 100 or more redundancies take place over a 90-day period.

Pomart: The Labour administration in France checks procedures have been complied with. Should it determine there has been an irregularity, it would advise the employer and the employee representatives. The employer would then have to reply, but would be free not to comply with the observations.

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