French News in
March 2000, Monthly, Issue No. 35,
The tax return for
individuals has to be filed by 15th March. The
important budget proposals were presented in our
October 1999 edition. We resume the propositions which
were finally passed.
1. The VAT rate for repairs to
housing was lowered from 20.6% to 5.5% effective from
15th September, 1999. This concerns housing which is
at least two years old. The tax reduction for major
repairs is abolished from 15th September. However, a
new tax-credit is offered for large household
equipment. Note, this is a tax-credit and is,
therefore, reimbursable for households who do not pay
tax. A decree precised that this includes large
heating equipment, boilers bought for central heating
of apartment buildings, elevators, a hammam and a
2. The notary charges for acquiring
houses were reduced from 7.6% to 4.8%. Now, the same
fiscal regime is applicable to professional and
3. The rental lease duty (droit
de bail) of 2.5% will be abolished from 2001.
From 2000 itself it is waived for those paying rent of
less than FF 3000 per month. Those having income from
property of less than FF 60,000 per year will be
refunded the rental lease duty related to rentals from
January to September 1998.
4. For income from immovable
property, the simple tax regime is extended to those
earning up to FF 60,000 (up from FF 30,000) and the
standard deduction is raised to 40% (up from 33%).
5. The Professional tax contains
two bases: capital employed and salaries. The "salary"
base is abolished for small and medium enterprises.
Doctors or professionals without "capital
employed" would therefore not pay any
6. The additional contribution on
the corporate income tax is abolished.
7. The VAT on services relating to
helping old and disabled people is reduced from 20.6%
8. There is a 30% reduction in gift
duty pertaining to gifts made by people older than 75
years. This is extended till June 2001.
9. For low income households, the
housing tax (taxe d'habitation) is capped at
FF 1200 (earlier FF 1500).
10. The exemption for inter-spouse
succession is raised to FF 500,000 (from FF 400,000)
11. Succession duties for
transferring small and medium enterprises are reduced
to half, if the inheritor keeps the shares for at
least eight years.
12. The tax credit on dividends is
reduced for enterprises engaged in the business of
financial investments. Dividend exoneration is now
limited for groups of companies.
13. The FF 1500 tax for creating an
enterprise is abolished.
14. The tax on the sale of goodwill
(fonds de commerce) is reduced from 11.4% to
15. The tax forfeit of FF 5,000
payable by small enterprises with an annual turnover
of less than FF 500,000 is suppressed.
16. 49 small taxes and duties have
been abolished and many formalities simplified.
17. The four different systems of
taxing capital gains are now unified.
Finances: Budget 2000
||Billions of Francs
||Billions of Francs
||Education and research
|Personal Income tax
||Employment and solidarity
|Corporate Income Tax
|Tax on Petrol and Petroleum
||Interest on deficit
|Stamp and registration duties
|Total tax receipts
the 35-hour week
In January this year, the government passed the second
law relating to the 35-hour week. This was followed by
a number of decrees indicating specific details. We
summarise the details.
For those who came in late, we
remind you that the 35-hour week was the major
electoral promise of this government. The promise was
made towards the end of France's recession. The
government was elected in 1997. The first law on the
subject, stimulating experimentation with the 35-hour
week was passed in 1998. Now, a second law has been
passed, taking into account the results of the
The 35-hour week is a philosophic,
economic and social concept.
Philosophically, it was considered
that if we are moving to a point of increasing
unemployment, it is because productivity is going up,
and less labour is required. The productive workers
should be allowed to share in the material prosperity
by being allowed greater leisure (a superior good),
allowing them to lead a more balanced and more
Economically, it was considered
first that labour productivity declines with length of
time worked. If workers work less, their marginal
product should be higher. So, it was considered better
to use more workers for less time. Second, the
redistribution of work-time would leave workers the
time to consume and boost aggregate demand. Third, the
redistribution from better-off workers to those
presently unemployed would raise income in the hands
of those with a higher marginal propensity to consume
and thus increase the multiplier effect.
Socially, it was considered that a
society with high unemployment is not a healthy
society since some are socially excluded, especially
because individual identity is often derived from
work-identity. So, there was a need to include the
unemployed in the workforce.
The 35-hour week was therefore a
political decision to share the work between the
workforce, i.e., between the employed and the
unemployed. Since it was estimated that about 13% of
the workforce was unemployed, the work-week was
reduced by 10% (from 39 hours to 35 hours), leaving
scope for a little frictional unemployment so that
there would not be too much pressure for wage
increases. At the same time, statistics were presented
to the employers indicating that productivity
increases would compensate for most of the effects of
the reduced work-time and that the reduction in
unemployment would not really be so high. This
reassured employers that there would not be any real
upward pressure on wages.
The model of the 35-hour week is
not expected to reduce income-inequalities between the
businessmen and the salaried. It is expected to reduce
the income-inequalities within the salaried class,
between the active and the temporarily inactive. To a
small extent, therefore, the enhancement of the
multiplier effect would come into play, thus boosting
1. The Legal Duration of
the Work Week and the regime of supplementary hours
The legal duration of the work-week
is fixed at 35-hours. This is applicable from 1st
January 2000 for enterprises with more than twenty
salaried employees and from 1st January 2002 for those
with twenty or less.
For agglomerations of more than
50,000 inhabitants, the President of the intercommune
is to stimulate measures to ensure the reduction in
The time taken to eat and all
breaks are taken as effective work-time in some cases.
If uniforms have to be worn and
taken off, the branch convention or the union accord
has to decide if the time for breaks is to be included
in the effective time.
The notion of a period of "constraint"
has been defined as a period where the employee is
"on call". The employee has normally to be
informed fifteen days in advance for all such periods.
The remuneration for these periods of waiting is to be
fixed according to accords or conventions. In any
case, the employee has to be paid in some way for
A complicated regime of accounting
supplementary hours was considered unconstitutional by
the Constitutional Council. Thanks to this, the
principles are simple:
For enterprises subjected to a
35-hour week, the first four supplementary hours of a
week give a bonus of 25%. The bonus is given as leave,
unless a convention allows it to be paid. During the
first calendar year after the coming into effect of
the 35-hour week, this would be limited to 10%.
The next four supplementary hours
in the same week give rise to a bonus pay of 25% and
all further hours a bonus of pay of 50%, unless an
agreement allows it to be taken as leave.
For small enterprises who would
continue at the 39-hour week for another two years,
the first eight supplementary hours would be paid at
25% bonus and the next hours at 50%.
Compensatory Leave can be taken as
full working days or half-days, as wished by the
employee. This is only normal: after all, he worked
extra when the employer wanted him to: he should take
leave when it suits him.
Normally, an enterprise is allowed
a maximum limit of supplementary hours it can force a
person to work. This used to be 130 hours a year. For
enterprises adhering to the 35-hour week, the limit is
fixed at 70 hours, but the limit applies from the 37th
hour in 2000 and the 36th hour in 2001.
In all cases, the average work time
per week for any period of 12 weeks should not exceed
44 hours or, in certain cases, 46 hours.
2. Repartition and changing
the Work Time: Allowing flexibility to the employer
The average work week of 35-hours
corresponds to 1600 hours per year, after accounting
for the weekly holidays, annual leave and an average
of 11 paid holidays.
A branch convention may allow the
enterprise to fix different hours to be worked at
different times of the year, ensuring that the average
week stays at 35 hours and the annual total at 1600
hours. The convention must also respect the maximum
hours to be worked in a day (ten hours) and in a week
(which varies from 46 to 48 hours, depending on
different situations). In such a case, the legal
work-week conforms to that agreed by the convention
for that part of the year, and the supplementary hours
are to be calculated in relation to the period.
The Convention has to solve such
complicated issues as to how to count absences during
different periods. For example, is an employee who
takes five weeks leave in the peak season in the same
situation as those who take in low season?
The reduction of the work-week may
take effect by giving employees half-days or full-days
off within four weeks.
An accord or convention may allow
the compensating leave to be computed annually. In
such a case, part of the timing of the leave would be
determined by the employer and part of the timing by
Managers at the directorial level
are not concerned with the 35-hour week. These are the
managers who make autonomous decisions, whose
work-week is self-organised and whose earnings are at
the highest echelons of the enterprise.
At the other extreme, those who are
deemed managerial staff owing to the income they earn
and whose work-time can be predetermined, are placed
within the framework of the 35-hour week.
Managers who are in between these
two extremes can be put on a system of forfeit of
hours or days to be worked in a week, month or year.
But they must respect the reduction in working time to
an average of 35-hours a week or a total of 1600 hours
per year or 217 days per year.
However, the limit of 10 hours per
day or five days per week is not applicable to these
managers. They can be asked to work as much as
thirteen hours a day. A day off per week is obligatory
for those on an hourly base, but not for those on an
4. Part-time and
The notion of part-time work has
been revamped to align it with EU directives. In
France, part-time work was less than 80% of full-time
work. In the EU, it was anything less than full-time
work. The new position conforms to the EU position.
But, it can be calculated weekly or monthly or
Part-time workers can also be asked
to increase their work at some points of the year, and
compensate by less work at other times. The new
part-time contracts can establish a schedule of
different hours in different parts of the year. These
contracted hours can also be modified at a week's
notice (three days if permitted by accord or
convention). But the salaried people have been offered
some protection. Firstly, those whose family situation
does not allow this, do not have to conform to changed
hours. Even part-time workers who have a second job
can refuse extra work conflicting with the second job.
Those pursuing studies or having another non-salaried
activity can also refuse this. Secondly, a salaried
person can ask for leave during the children's
vacations to be compensated by him by working longer
hours later. In short, where it serves both the
employer and the employee, flexibility is permitted by
the State legally instead of the off-the-record
understandings between the worker and the boss.
Overtime is permitted within 10% of
the contracted time (33% if an accord or a convention
stipulates) and within the 35-hour limit. An overtime
bonus is paid if the overtime exceeds 10% of the
contracted time. But the salaried person must be given
three days' notice and overtime must be foreseen in
If the overtime of two hours or
more per week is persistent for more than twelve weeks
within a period of fifteen weeks, the new average time
becomes the normal part-time.
An accord or convention can also
permit the modulation of part-time work over the year.
But it must indicate the types of salaried staff, the
weekly or monthly minimum time to be worked, the
minimum per day, the limits between which the
work-week will vary. Normally, the work-week
stipulated can be increased or decreased by a third,
without exceeding 35-hours in any week.
Workers can request a reduction of
their working time over one or many periods, each
greater than a week, for family reasons. The request
has to be made six months in advance and the employer
has to reply within three months.
The exoneration of social security
charges for engaging part-time workers is limited to
one year after the application of the 35-hour
work-week to the enterprise.
A new contractual relationship has
been created, termed "Intermittent Work".
This allows people to alternate between periods of
work and no-work. The contract has to indicate the
minimum annual working duration and the periods of
work. Overtime is permitted to the extent of one-third
of the stipulated minimum period. The salary can be
based on the hours worked in each period or be
To calculate an employee's annual
leave, the half-days or full-days taken off (in the
case of monthly or annual adjustments to the 35-hour
week) are included in the effective work-time.
To encourage part-time work with
many different employers, to determine the timing of
an employee's leave, the employers have to take into
account the fact that the employee has to take leave
simultaneously from the other employer.
The provisions for cumulating leave
have been relaxed.
6. Time-saving Account
The system of leave accumulation
under Art L.227-1 has been modified significantly.
This system allows accumulating leave and taking it
later when, hopefully, it is worth more because one is
earning more. Besides the leave which is not taken,
all kinds of bonuses and indemnities can be converted
into accumulated leave in one's time saving account.
This will now include the bonuses for working late or
the compensatory leave for overtime, as well as a part
of the leave associated with reducing the work-time to
A maximum of twenty-two days per
year can be accumulated for the above reasons.
Another five days per year can be
accumulated for overtime worked if the activity
fluctuates and if the convention or accord permit it.
The leave has to be taken within
five years of its crossing the two-month mark. For
those who have children less than sixteen years of age
at the end of this period and whose spouse is
dependent or older than 75 years, the leave can be
taken within ten years of crossing this minimum
7. Training and reduction
Employers are obliged to train
employees in accordance with the evolution of their
work. All training activities constitute effective
Nevertheless, some training
activities may be taken up on the employees' time if
the employee is willing.
Young workers less than eighteen
years of age on initiation training or alternating
contracts have to be allowed two consecutive days'
leave. An exception may be made for specific
activities and this could be reduced to thirty-six
8. Developing bargaining
and Easing social contributions
The enterprises which reduce the
work-week to 35-hours per week or 1600 hours per year
would get an exoneration of social security charges
for employees earning up to 1.8 times the SMIC,
provided the work week time reduction is obtained by
negotiation: accord within an enterprise or convention
for a branch of activity.
The accord has to define the new
work-conditions as well as objectives relating to new
employment, training, switching to part-time work,
etc. These objectives have to be compared with actual
results at the end of the year and new objectives have
to be placed for the next year.
To benefit from the reduction in
social security charges, the employer has to provide
information to the URSSAF or similar organisation on
employment effects of the 35-hour week. In fact, the
easing of charges is a payment for information
provided and interference in the employer's domain of
hiring, firing and exploiting.
The benefit of reduced charges is
lost for those working overtime for more than the
legally allowed 70 hours per year.
The benefit is suspended if the
employer does not recruit the agreed new employees
within a year.
New enterprises created now, using
the 35-hour week or 1600-hour year, will get the
social security reduction benefit if they pay their
employees a minimum wage equal to 169 times the hourly
SMIC (which corresponds to the old 39-hour week).
social security reduction is for social insurance,
work-accidents, professional illnesses and family
It is given for all employees
working more than half-time.
The amount of the deduction is
digressive in relation to the salary of the person:
but there is a minimum forfeit benefit beyond a
certain salary (1.8 times the SMIC). A decree dated
28th January fixes the monthly amount as determined by
[(41500 x 6881.68÷monthly gross
salary of the employee)-20000]÷12,
with a minimum of FF 333.33 per
month (or FF 4,000 per year).
To illustrate the impact, after
rounding off to lighten the presentation, the
government had indicated the figures in the table.
The amounts will be higher by FF
3500 per year (or pro-rata FF 292 per month) for
enterprises who reduce the work-time to 32 hours per
week or 1460 hours per year. Another FF 1400 per year
may be attributed to employees engaged in areas of
This permanent aid, given to all
enterprises, is in addition to the temporary aid
(maximum for five years) given as an incentive to
those who brought in the 35-hour week sooner than it
was legally obligatory. It is also given in addition
to those who followed the Robien law. In either case,
the cumulating is subject to a reduction of FF 4,000
per year for enterprises reducing to a 35-hour week
and FF 7,500 per year for enterprises who are reducing
their work-time to 32 hours a week, fixed by the
decree of 28th January. The total of reductions in
social security charges cannot be greater than the
charges due from the employer.
9. Legal Security
Contracts signed in accordance with
the first law (June 1998) are valid as long as they
adapt to the new stipulations concerning overtime
bonuses and compensatory leave.
If an employee refuses to accept
the reduction of his work-week subsequent to an
accord, he can be fired.
In such a case, the employer does
not have to pay a special indemnity to the ASSEDIC.
There are 2.2 million employees
paid at the SMIC, France's minimum wage. This wage is
currently at FF 40.72 per hour, which works out to FF
6882 per month (40.72 x 169). If the hourly SMIC
remains the same, the people on the SMIC will
obviously be paid less at 35-hours than at 39. Their
pay would work out to about FF 6176, a monthly loss of
FF 706. The 2.2 million voters would not like their
monthly pay to be reduced. The government had promised
that they would not lose out. So, a complementary
allowance of FF 706 per month is being paid to them to
compensate the reduction in their monthly pay. A lower
complementary allowance will also be paid to those
earning a little more than the SMIC whose pay reduces
to less than 169 times the SMIC. The old monthly SMIC
will therefore be the minimum for all full-time
This "minimum monthly
salary" (new SMIC plus complement) will also be
indexed to consumer prices and to half of the growth
in the buying power of an average worker. But it would
not receive the ad hoc boosts (coups de pouce)
provided to the hourly SMIC every few years, notably
before or after elections.
The guarantee is also offered to
those working part-time on the SMIC as they are also
assured a proportional minimum on the above base.
New employees doing similar work in
the same enterprise to those earning the old SMIC must
also be paid an equivalent monthly salary.
Apprentices and disabled workers
are provided a similar advantage based on their
respective minimum pay.
This guarantee will no longer be
needed after 2005, since the evolution of the hourly
SMIC, with the ad hoc boosts, should have caught up to
that of the monthly pay packet determined in this way.
The dispositions of this law have
been applied to the 1.4 million agricultural workers
The government will be presenting a
report on the impact of this law on employment every
year to the Parliament.
13. Free or subsidised
The stipulations of the subsidised
consultancy, introduced after the first law, have been
renewed by a decree. Such subsidised consultancy is
available for internal reorganisation owing to
introduction of the 35-hour week and for negotiations
concerning the 35-hour week. The former can be before
or after introducing the 35-hour week. Of course,
government-approved consultants have to be taken.
The government subsidy would be for
a daily fee of up to FF 5,500. The subsidy would be
100% for the first five days. For the rest of the
period, the subsidy would be for 70% of the
consultancy cost for enterprises with less than 200
salaried people, and 50% for those 200 or more.
In short, free advice is being
given on how to reorganise.
14. Modified Salary
The salary bulletin has, of course,
become more complicated. It must indicate, if
necessary, whether it is based on a weekly, monthly or
annual salary with corresponding hours. If the salary
is not calculated on the basis of the number of hours,
the bulletin must indicate the salary base.
For those on the minimum wage, the
new salary and the complement to insure their earlier
monthly wage must be indicated separately.
Retrenchment benefits linked to 35-hour week
When companies partially lay off
older employees (55 to 65 years), they have to provide
them a replacement income. The State is willing to
bear part of the cost if the enterprises and employees
satisfy certain conditions. One of the conditions is
that the enterprise should have reduced its work-time
to 35 hours a week or 1600 hours a year.
The percentage of the State
participation is fixed at 20% for employees who are 55
years old, 35% for those 56 years old, and 50% for
those older than 57 years.
On the 10th of February the government passed a law
relating to the modernisation and development of the
public service of electricity. The law contains
fifty-five articles distributed under nine titles.
These include the definition of the public service,
production, transport and distribution, access to the
network, accounting, regulation, objectives of EDF,
social provisions and diverse and transitory
Since 1946, electricity and gas are
virtual state monopolies exercised by EDF and GDF. The
nationalisation and monopolisation were considered
essential to French post-war development. French
energy dependence was considered at 77% in 1973 (to
import oil for thermal production) before the first
oil shock. Subsequently, France decided to go in for
nuclear energy sources and today its dependence rate
is assessed at 50%. EDF, the largest electricity
company in Europe (about FF 185 billion in electricity
sales) exports far more than it imports. However, it
is only the fourth largest exporter in Europe. EDF's
monopoly is similar to the situation in Ireland,
Greece, Portugal and Italy.
With the coming in of the EU and
the consequent liberalisation and opening of markets,
the governments needed to permit foreigners to compete
in all member-countries. An EU directive of 1996
(applicable from February 1997) required the opening
of the electricity market in three phases. Within two
years, the part of the market open to competition
would be at least equal to the consumption of large
customers (more than 40 Gwh per year), i.e., about 25%
of the European market. Within three years, this
threshold is lowered to 20 Gwh per year, representing
about 27% of the European market. At the end of six
years, this threshold is further reduced to 9 Gwh per
year, representing about 30% of the European market.
We note that the EU directive is aimed at liberalising
electricity sold to the industrial market.
Of course, in practice, much of
this has already been done in the last two years. Some
countries have moved much faster. Sweden, Finland and
Spain are ahead of the EU directive. Germany and the
UK have opened their markets totally. Others have
opened a much larger part than the 30% previewed in
six years. Only France, Austria, Greece and Portugal
have decided to stick to the minimum required by the
EU. France dragged its feet and the first law has come
out a year later than scheduled (February 2000 instead
of February 1999), after the UK threatened retaliatory
measures. About 60% of the EU market may have been
liberalised end-1999. As a result, it seems, Spain and
Austria have witnessed 15% reduction in electricity
prices benefiting the consumers.
The field of electricity has also
witnessed mergers and acquisitions in the last few
years e.g., Alsthom and ABB. EDF has bought out London
Electricity. At the same time, EDF has also
diversified by purchasing Clemessey. In fact, it seems
that each provider is trying to now provide a variety
of complementary services (electric, thermal,
air-conditioning) in all the European markets. The
market is also being opened to North American
operators. Concomitantly, new decentralised techniques
(co-generation or combustible batteries) seem to be
cost-effective large centralised operators.
French electricity prices have
remained stable since 1983, with a 10% decline over
the last few years. Meanwhile, competitive products,
notably gas, seem to be more price-competitive with
the fall in global prices of natural resources. The
end-result is that French electricity is now
considered 8% more expensive than international prices
for electricity. All this means that all products
which are intensive in the use of electricity will be
manufactured outside of France if French prices do not
come down or if cheap imported electricity is not
Besides the industrial market, the
domestic or retail market is also very important and
constitutes more than 30% of the total market. This
domestic market grew at a rapid pace of 11% per annum
from 1951 to 1973 thanks to the increased number of
electrified houses as well as increase in applications
(appliances, heating). 60% of new housing is adapted
to electric heating. What this means is that
electricity is now considered a necessity and those
whose electricity is cut off are considered socially
excluded. Which is why the government passed a law
end-1998 to stop the practice of peremptorily cutting
off the electricity of the half-million consumers (2%
of households) who could not pay their bills.
At the same time, local electricity
companies having universal operator status, such as
EDF, have a social obligation to furnish rural
markets. This includes about 29000 little communes
with a total population of 12.7 million (about 438 per
commune). The extent to which they fulfil this
obligation makes them non-competitive in the
international market. So, a separate subsidy is
required to ensure that this obligation does not
interfere with competitiveness in the industrial
Which means that there are two
markets. The first is a competitive industrial market
where the big consumers can negotiate agreements and
choose among the different European and international
suppliers, allowing them to reduce the price of their
inputs essential to cost-efficiency for their own
product-pricing. The second market is that of small
domestic consumers who have little choice as to their
supplier. This is complicated by obligations to poorer
consumers who can't pay and a national tariff
equalisation system to cover not only the small rural
consumers but also to integrate the electricity-rich
regions with deficit regions.
The obvious conclusion is that all
electricity companies will try to make domestic
customers pay for subsidising industrial sales. The
accounting treatment to determine the losses of the
rural segment and those of continuing electricity
supply to poor people who cannot pay their bills will
effectively determine the ability to negotiate
industrial tariffs. Clever use of transfer-accounting
should be able to increase losses attributed to
domestic and rural sectors permitting increased
taxpayer financing. The consequential increase in
subsidies could in turn increase the margin for
negotiating industrial contracts Europe-wide. After
all, lower industrial tariffs may mean withstanding
competition and permitting Electricity production jobs
to remain in France.
To avoid such cross-subsidies and
distortions, the EU directive requires separate
accounting for production, transport and distribution
of electricity to be made available for each
enterprise to all member-countries on a reciprocal
basis. The law passed in February 1999 respects this
obligation. However, neither the EU directive nor the
French law indicate the need for transparency
regarding markets (industrial and domestic - including
defaulters and rural) as distinct from activities
(production, transport, distribution).
the Professional Education Business
Unlike French university education, which is very
cheap (FF 1,200 to 2,000 per year), professional
education can be as expensive as anywhere in the USA
or UK. A four-month course could cost anywhere between
FF 5,000 and FF 75,000. Long MBA programs could cost
well over FF 100,000.
At these prices, you would think
that there are not many takers. Wrong, there are
seldom professional courses which go a-begging. Mostly
because, thanks to generous subsidies, the cost to the
recipient of the education is practically nil. These
subsidies come from various public bodies: the State,
the National Education Fund of the Labour Ministry
(FNE), the Regional Council, the Departmental General
Council, the Social Fund of the ASSEDIC, the Mayor's
office, the retirement funds, the ANPE and the
continuing education fund. Private bodies such as the
Rotary Club may also finance part of the course. Each
of these bodies has its own criteria as to which
courses they will finance. For example, the regional
council often specifies that the person must be at
least 25 years old and be unemployed for more than six
months. The "FNE-Cadre" specifies that the
person must have worked at least five years. Each body
also evaluates the institute and certifies specific
courses from the institute. Most of the subsidies are
provided to the unemployed.
In spite of the course being
practically free, not all of France's 2.5 million
unemployed wish to pursue further education. Some,
because they would prefer to find a job quickly,
others because they just don't believe in further
training or don't have the aptitude for it. This means
that French professionals going in for continuing
education or the unemployed trying to fill up a
deficiency in or add a skill to their repertoire like
to make an inventory of advantages and disadvantages
of spending time in professional education. They
invest their time only if they feel that there would
be some value added.
After that, they go in for a period
of research, finding the appropriate course for their
needs among a multitude of available courses. The
research is of course not that complicated. Often,
only one course specific to one's needs is offered in
the region. If more are offered, their timing is
different and one is clearly more suited to one's
calendar that the choice is already made. It is
recommended to take feedback from ex-students about
the quality of the course and from the market about
the quality of the organisation.
Most courses are rated from one to
five, in a declining scale of professional
capabilities to which the course prepares. Level one
is often a general management course, level five is a
technician. Often, people may take a series of
courses, slowly upgrading themselves from level five
to a higher level, till they feel they are qualified
for the post they would like to exercise. Of course,
the student must be able to justify the aptitude for
the course and how it is relevant to his professional
project in order to be approved to receive the
In addition to the cost of the
course, a second factor which would inhibit people
from taking courses is the loss of income or
free-time. The legislature has intervened in this
regard too and ensured that, if anything, people gain
from going in for higher education. For this, the
unemployment dole, which is digressive with time, is
maintained at the initial level during the length of
the course. After the course is over, the trainee
finds his earning falling to the level it would if he
had not taken the course. For those with high doles,
the course may be justified during times of seasonal
troughs. But to get this special education dole (the
AFR), the course must be certified in this respect by
the ASSEDIC. Most courses are if they are for more
than 20 hours a week.
Most professional training courses
have three parts. The first is the scholarly aspect
where one is actually taught the theory. A second is
the practical aspect where one is sent to enterprises
to put the knowledge into practice. It seems that all
trainees easily find enterprises because the trainee
is free to the enterprise who accepts the trainee. The
third is the professional aspect, where one finalises
his or her professional prospect and looks for a job:
the objective of all the subsidies.
Critics of the professional
education programs point to the economic distortions
created in the market. People spend time and money
buying education instead of other products. However,
much of this is justified in the name of human
investment necessary to keep the economy ahead
internationally. Some distortions do occur with some
students marking time in professional courses instead
of attacking the realities of the real world: but many
have indicated their satisfaction at having been able
to convert from a frustrating career choice made in
their teens or early twenties to something more suited
to their nature.
A second criticism is that since
many different bodies are subsidising the courses,
there is no statistic available for the total outlay
on professional education.
A third criticism is that the
people undergoing training are not included in the
unemployment statistics because they are not supposed
to be looking for work during their training time. As
a result, it is in the government's political interest
to hide the unemployed in training courses. However,
even this keeps the economy moving. After all, while
the taxpayer may be paying for the courses, the
institutes offering the courses are employing
. Some schemes ask people to pay
back whatever the course costs if they do not complete
the course. But in most cases, this does not really
happen in practice if the person leaves the course
because he has found a suitable job, which was the
objective of the course, in the first place. But
borderline cases are always causes for looking at
one's conscience: does a temporary job offer justify
abandoning the course, considering that one got the
place instead of some other candidate?
While all the above goes to show
that the professional training is the cream-end of the
education business, much of the demand continues to be
a function of unemployment. With economic growth and
the 35-hour week, unemployment should go down and the
demand for professional courses should reduce
drastically, especially if the more dynamic among the
unemployed find jobs immediately. The government hopes
that what is lost by way of the market of the
unemployed for professional training will be
compensated by the increase in demand for continuing
education in evening courses by all the employed,
thanks to the four-hours per week of leisure time made
available. Of course, professional training
organisations will need to re-tailor their course
timing to suit the new agenda.