“Let’s focus on strictly essential activities”

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© Marc CHAUMEIL
Yves Veyrier in Paris, September 21, 2019.

For the General Secretary of Force Ouvriere, priority must be given to the health of workers and the management of the health crisis. Hence his call to temporarily stop all unnecessary activities in the country.

For the secretary general of FO, Yves Veyrier, priority must be given to the health of workers and the management of the health crisis. Hence his call to focus efforts on the essential sectors, stopping all unnecessary activities.

In the face of the epidemic, voices are rising to demand a complete halt to non-essential activities. The government does not support it. What is FO’s position?

There are two contradictory discourses. The pressure mounts on the respect of confinement and, at the same time, there is this little music on the risks for the economy which could find it difficult to start again in the event of too abrupt stop. We must stop with this! There is a lack of means of protection essential for security in general, and for employees in particular. Instead of dispersing to try to maintain non-emergency activities, let’s focus on the strictly essential ones and stop the others. Government hesitation leads to misunderstanding. If we procrastinate, we will make the situation worse.

Are workers not likely to suffer if the country plunges into recession, as feared by the executive?

The sooner this epidemic is overcome, the tighter the containment will be, and the faster we will be able to revive the economy. We were touted last week the Italian deal to keep production in the industry, and in the meantime, Italy has decided to stop all that is not essential. Don’t get in the wrong. People are not fools, when the activity is revived, there will be a wind of commitment to ensure that the economy starts again without jeopardizing the rights of employees.

The bill on the state of health emergency adopted sunday do not go in this direction…

There are some positive things in this text, such as the economic aid which will make it possible to maintain employment and the purchasing power of employees, the postponement of unemployment insurance, even if we had to go further by also removing the rules in force since November, measures to suspend redundancy procedures. Those designed to derogate from the rules on paid holidays and working hours are superfluous. It is not the priority. It is even counterproductive: let’s not add to the epidemic risk, a risk of exhaustion due to the intensification of work, with longer working days or less rest time. Currently, companies are doing the opposite: they are reducing opening hours, slowing down production chains to avoid people being too concentrated in the workplace.

The position of the Minister of Labor, who calls for continued economic activity, has been criticized by many unionists …

The Minister of Labor should focus on the title of her ministry which is Labor, not Economy and Finance. By mixing genres, we arrive at contradictions.

On the right of withdrawal in particular?

It is incomprehensible that one wonders about the merits of the right of withdrawal, because all of a sudden we are confronted with potential massive use. It is not the employees who are responsible for this situation! When the latter appeal to their right of withdrawal, it is because they feel that there are no provisions in their workplace which protect their health. As for other employees in essential sectors, they are aware of the importance of their mobilization, but they do not want to leave their skin behind. Hence their call for help in the face of insufficient resources. The answer cannot be a convoluted reading of the right of withdrawal. Adapted devices are needed.

The situation also reveals two France: that still in factories and businesses, the most precarious often, and that of executives, in telework. With for the former, a strong feeling of discredit…

We already knew this situation. A few weeks ago, FO launched a campaign to demand better consideration for all personal service jobs. These are often jobs with little or no attention, when their role is essential. A financial engineer who will earn a very good living can only exercise his profession because someone takes care of his children, his parents, does his housework. However, all these essential people are often in precarious, part-time jobs, paid at minimum wage. I’m thinking of Ehpad employees, cashiers, cleaning agents, truckers, food workers… There is a problem of consideration of what is important in our society. It is not balanced, regardless of the situation of the epidemic. And even more today, in a crisis situation. There are terrible images: “white-collar workers” gone to the countryside with family and computer, who, as soon as they arrive, go shopping in the local supermarket, without any protection for the cashier. This raises real questions.

A bonus of 1,000 euros will be paid to workers in certain companies, particularly in large retailers. Sufficient?

If it is a form of risk compensation, we disagree. On the other hand, if it is a question of finally revaluing these trades, if it is a first gesture which goes in this direction, okay. But Medef has already said that not all companies could pay the premium. We also wouldn’t want it to be an isolated coup. These trades need to be upgraded on a long-term basis, in terms of job quality and remuneration. And above all, the priority must remain health.

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