The French labor market in 2008 consisted of 28.8 million people. Of these, more than 3 million were job seekers. Minimum wages, SMIC (salaries minimum de croissance), is billed every quarter by the state without the involvement of the social partners. In January 2010, just over 3.2 million employees received SMIC, which then amounted to EUR 1,343 per month. At the beginning of the first decade of the 2000s, an attempt was made to introduce a general 35-hour work week, but in 2008 the working time legislation was reformed again and the working time is now regulated in collective agreements in the workplace. In 2009, the French worked an average of 39.5 hours per week with large variations between occupational categories. Since 1981, the French have been entitled to retire at the age of 60, sometimes even earlier in certain government sectors. This means that (2008) only 38.3% of those between the ages of 55 and 64 are professionals (the corresponding figure in Sweden is 70%).
The French unions are many, but only those who meet certain criteria can negotiate collective agreements. The trade unions’ counterparts are a central employer organization, MEDEF (Mouvement des entreprises de France), and the state. Only 10% of employees are unionized; 40% of government employees, but almost none in smaller companies. The influence of trade unions is not insignificant. They can mobilize members for large demonstration trains or paralyze the country through point strikes, especially in the transport and education sectors. The right to strike, which is enshrined in the 1958 Constitution, is considered inviolable by the majority.
France has a comprehensive social security system since the end of the Second World War. It is financed partly through the insurance funds URSSAF, which is managed by the social partners, and partly by state and municipal taxes. URSSAF consists of several cash registers; for illness, pension, family, work injuries and unemployment. They are financed by deductions on the employee’s gross monthly salary (about 20%) and a series of employer contributions (about 40%). The state income tax is paid separately and greatly affected by the number of children. The winners are high-income earners with many children. The municipal tax rate is considerably lower than in Sweden. The share of income from social insurance and various social benefits constitutes about 30% of an average household income in France. Visit AbbreviationFinder to see the definitions of FRA and acronym for France.
French care is of internationally recognized quality. In addition to local health centers and university hospitals, there is an extensive private sector. Of the health care costs, 90% of the state insurance fund is covered together with industry-related supplementary funds. If you earn less than EUR 8 774 per year, you receive all care free (couverture maladie universelle) since 2000. This also applies to homeless and “paperless” people.
The French pension system is structured without pension funds according to a strict allocation principle. The aging population requires reform of the pension system. In 2010, the government of Sarkozy announced its ambition to progressively raise the retirement age to 62 and increase the number of working years to 41.5, with the possibility of working to 67 years to receive full pension. The proposal met with vigorous protests.
Benefits for families with children are generous and numerous in France. They consist of a combination of family insurance payments, (Caisse d’assurances familiales), and a favorable income tax system. In 2008, 6.8 million families received EUR 47.8 billion, mostly in the form of premiums, child support and parental leave. Women can choose to stay at home with a salary of just over 530 euros per month for three years. Maternity leave is 16 weeks, of which three weeks are taken before birth. From the third child you have 26 weeks. The man has been entitled to parental leave since 2004, but on bad terms. Child allowance is only received from the second child, and the allowance increases rapidly after three children. For poor families, the child allowance represents a significant income. However, the French security system is struggling with recurring deficits of several billion euros.
With an annual income of € 17,563 per household, France is only 20% above the EU average. This figure hides large income and wealth gaps. More than 8 million residents are poor according to international standards. Since 2009, a minimum income (revenu de solidarité active) is paid to anyone who cannot live on their salary (<880 euros per month) or who is unemployed. It replaces the previous system RMI (revenue minimum d’insertion). Of the 2 million residents who receive this grant, many are young people and single women. Hundreds of thousands of homeless and paperless survive thanks to the help of NGOs and the EU.
Unemployment has been at the root of many other social problems since the 1980s. Of the 3 million unemployed, 38% are long-term unemployed. Young people, immigrants and women without education are the most affected. After the first decade of the 21st century, it can be observed that a large part of the population, including the middle class, has, despite a better and more effective social protection network, received a deteriorating standard of living.