Social partners and the Ministry of Labor cross swords over sectoral minimum wages

On the one hand, there is the Ministry of Labor. On the other hand, workers’ unions and large-scale retail employers, which – very unusual – form a united front. For months, the two camps have been opposing the rules relating to minimum wages in retailers “Predominantly food”. Seized by the social partners, the Council of State examined the dispute on Monday, September 20, while the debate rages on the subject of purchasing power – in particular for so-called “second line” workers, very numerous in this sector with store employees. In view of the course of the hearing on Monday, it is possible that the high court will give satisfaction to the applicants, forcing the public authorities to reconsider their doctrine.

The dispute arises from the Macron ordinances of September 2017, which changed the hierarchy of labor law standards. From now on, with regard to almost all bonuses, the agreements concluded in a company prevail over those signed in the professional sector: in other words, a boss and the elected officials of his company have the right to seal a compromise ruling out the payment of a bonus, even if it is mentioned in the collective agreement. Conversely, branch agreements retain primacy in terms of hierarchical minimum wages, which means that companies in the field concerned cannot fall below this threshold when they pay their employees.

At the end of May 2018, the Federation of Commerce and Distribution (FCD) and four employee unions signed an amendment on minimum wages in predominantly food brands. The text included in the hierarchical minimum wage an annual bonus and paid break time – which workers in the sector have enjoyed for several decades.

A “eagerly awaited” decision

In order for this measure to apply to all companies in the branch, the social partners have asked the General Directorate of Labor (DGT) to issue an extension order. This was done in June 2019, but the decree in question excluded the stipulations allowing to include the annual bonus and the paid breaks: these do not have to be, in the eyes of the DGT, because they ignore the distribution of powers between branches and companies resulting from the Macron ordinances. According to the administration, the hierarchical minimum salary is equivalent to a base salary which must be understood strictly, that is to say without the addition of additional remuneration.

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