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Health emergency: organising meetings and negotiations remotely

How to reconcile collective labour relations and compliance with lockdown measures

23/04/2020

Reconciling collective labour relations and compliance with lockdown measures is not easy during a health emergency.

Despite the fact that many companies have reduced or even suspended their operations or else introduced teleworking, social dialogue is still taking place. This has led the government to institute several measures intended to overcome the distance barrier.

Employee representatives can meet by video-conferencing, conference call or instant messaging

Remote meetings of members of the CSE (social and economic committee) is only possible, in principle, via video-conferencing, up to a maximum of three meetings per year (unless otherwise agreed)1.

To ensure continuity in the functioning of employee representative bodies, an ordinance of 1 April 2020 extends the use of video-conferencing to all meetings of the CSE, at the simple decision of the employer and after informing its members2.

The employer may also decide to organise meetings of the CSE in the form of conference calls, again after informing its members.

If it is impossible to use those two methods, or if provided for by a company agreement, meetings may alternatively be held by instant messaging.

This applies to all meetings of the CSE, ordinary as well as extraordinary, as well as meetings of all employee representative bodies governed by the French Labour Code (group committee, local representatives, etc.).

These measures apply to all meetings convened during the health emergency, i.e. until 24 May 2020.

Organisation of meetings

The conditions for holding meetings by video-conferencing are set out in the French Labour Code3 and a decree of 10 April 2020 transposes them to meetings by conference call or instant messaging4.

The technical method used must:

  • guarantee the identification of members and their effective participation in the meeting;
  • ensure the continuous and simultaneous transmission of the sound and images of the deliberations by video-conferencing – or the sound only for conference calls – and allow the instantaneous communication of messages for deliberations by instant messaging;
  • guarantee, in the event of a secret ballot, that the voter’s identity cannot be linked to their vote. In practice, this requires the use of an electronic voting system, which must ensure the confidentiality of the data transmitted, the security of the votes and their counting.

Certain adjustments must also be made to the holding of meetings:

  • the invitation to the meeting must mention the method chosen and, for meetings by instant messaging, specify its start date and time and the earliest possible finish time and date;
  • before any deliberation, it must be verified that each member has access to technical resources in line with the guarantees mentioned above – and it is advisable to record that verification in the minutes of the meeting;
  • voting – even if not secret – takes place simultaneously, i.e. each member has an identical amount of time to vote from the start of the voting indicated by the chairman of the body. This requirement is surprising: simultaneous voting during a telephone meeting would seem physically impossible, except by using an electronic voting device;
  • during meetings by instant messaging, the chairman of the body sends the results of the votes to the elected representatives at the end of the deadline indicated for casting those votes. The discussions are closed by a message from the chairman communicated no earlier than the time previously stipulated.

Remote negotiation of collective agreements

As in the case of meetings with elected employee representatives, remote collective negotiations are recommended. The French Labour Ministry clarified the rules for this in a Q&A for companies and employees5.

Negotiation meetings may be held by video-conferencing or else by conference call, subject to compliance with a principle of good faith, requiring all parties to be invited to participate and each participant being able to speak and debate in the presence of the other parties.

Several methods are presented for signing collective agreements:

  • electronic signature, which is subject to security rules which, in practice, require the involvement of a dedicated service provider;
  • signature by each party of a printed or received copy of the draft agreement, followed by posting it, scanning it or sending a photo of it, meaning there will be as many copies of the agreement as there are signatories;
  • signature by a party mandated by the other parties to sign the agreement.

At the end of the signing procedure, the collective agreement must be notified to all trade union organisations. This notification may be made by email with acknowledgement of receipt.

Employers continue to use the “TéléAccords” platform to file their collective agreements. If all the parties’ signatures are not on the same copy, the agreement is filed by attaching a single PDF file containing all the signed copies.

It is laudable that practical solutions have been implemented to maintain social dialogue despite the lockdown. Certain of the provisions remain rudimentary or difficult to implement, but the current period requires inventiveness, including with regard to employee representative bodies, with which employers must remain in contact.

Article published in Les Echos Executives on 23/04/2020


[1] Article L.2315-4 of the French Labour Code.

[2] Article 6 of Ordinance no. 2020-389 of 1 April 2020.

[3] Articles D.2315-1 and D.2315-2 of the French Labour Code.

[4] Decree no. 2020-419 of 10 April 2020.

[5] https://travail-emploi.gouv.fr/actualites/l-actualite-du-ministere/article/coronavirus-questions-reponses-pour-les-entreprises-et-les-salaries.


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