Partial unemployment: the government’s anti-crisis bazooka is in full swing in companies

“Above all, don’t fire.” Muriel Pénicaud, the Minister of Labor, has been repeating for three weeks the same unprecedented incantation: “I am making a request to companies: take up the partial activity. We have set up a device which is the most protective in Europe. in order to preserve employment. ” With this device dating from the sixties, the executive seems to have found its weapon to respond to the economic emergency. “No employee in a company affected by a drop in turnover will be left out and whatever the cost”, promises the president, Emmanuel Macron.

A message received five out of five by companies which have used it massively since mid-March: some 220,000 companies have used this tool and 2.2 million employees are concerned, according to the Ministry of Labor. And this is just the beginning: “We are at several thousand requests per minute, said Muriel Pénicaud. Between Thursday and Friday, we had 600,000 more requests in 24 hours.”

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This success is explained by the scale of the shock but also by the fear of entrepreneurs of being sued: “A company must ensure the health of its employees,” explains François Asselin, president of the CPME, an employers’ organization. many of them did not have until now the material means (masks, gel) to secure working conditions.Moreover, the government communicated poorly: by saying ‘stay at home’, it has despite itself

encouraged certain brands to lower the curtain. But hey, everything is back to normal and the device today, after a few adjustments, is very well calibrated. “Already, the bill promises to be steep according to Bruno Le Maire, the Minister of ‘Economy, which expects a cost of at least 8 billion euros.

An accelerated procedure

But no question of playing the flu-sous: Emmanuel Macron learned the lessons of the management of the financial crisis of 2008. A decade ago, despite the efforts of Nicolas Sarkozy to reform partial unemployment, France had remained a small player against Germany which had spent some 10 billion euros between 2007 and 2010, ten times more than the Hexagon. As a result, “the unemployment rate in 2009 only increased by 0.2% in Germany when this country suffered a recession twice as strong as France,” suggests Emmanuel Jessua, of Coe-Rexecode.

This time, the government opened wide the floodgates by publishing a decree on March 26 which specifies the contours of the device. Employers who directly compensate their employees up to 84% of the net salary (100% at the level of the minimum wage) will be reimbursed by the State at 100% up to 4.5 minimum wage. Another strong commitment: “In order not to penalize companies, they will be granted a period of thirty days to submit their request, with retroactive effect,” promised Édouard Philippe, the Prime Minister. In parallel, the services of the Ministry of Labor have 48 hours (14 days in normal times) to go through the files and refuse the requests. If the administration does not respond, the request must be considered accepted.

In order to encourage companies to maintain the full salary of employees, Muriel Pénicaud also announced on Tuesday March 31 that “we exempt from social and employer charges (excluding CSG-CRDS) amounts paid in excess of 84% for companies wishing to fully maintain the remuneration of their employees “.

The system is very broad since it concerns both temporary workers, home employees, seasonal workers in ski resorts, childminders, etc. And more flexible for employers who can require their employees to take their days off work, or even holidays: six consecutive days until December 31, on condition of signing a collective agreement.

Concretely, “this arsenal of protections”, according to the Ministry of Labor, allows “a company to reduce the weekly working time of its employees or outright close a site during the crisis,” explains Bertrand Martinot, economist specializing in Labor market. Clearly, employees are placed on partial unemployment for a maximum period of 1,000 hours without breach of the employment contract. ” And its virtues are multiple: “Preventing business failures and protecting employees from unemployment, analyzes Yannick L’Horty, professor of economics at the University of Paris-Est-Marne-la-Vallée. Its other strength is c ‘ is to avoid the loss of skills within companies. When the pandemic is over, they will be able to restart more quickly. “

Reinforced controls

In sectors hit hard, such as passenger transport, we appreciate the executive’s efforts to stop the bleeding. “The partial activity makes it possible to limit breakage, testifies Jean-Sébastien Barrault of the National Federation of Passenger Transport (FNTV). And it is used en masse by our member companies.” This is the case of Christine François, general manager of Grisel transport: she plans to put most of its 220 employees on short-time work following the net loss of 400,000 euros in turnover. “We are in survival,” she blurted out with death in the soul. The tool is also appreciated by tricolor behemoths such as Air France, which has announced a large massive partial unemployment plan: 80% of the 40,000 or so employees of the group are affected. Same tone for Michelin, flagship of the hexagonal industry, which is closing all its factories for a week in Spain, Italy and France because of the Covid-19.

But beware of opportunists: Altice, a telecoms giant, has announced that it wants to put some 50% of its workforce on short-time work, much more than the number of employees in its 600 shops in France. Controversy ensured, especially as the group generated 14.8 billion euros in revenue, up 5% over twelve months. Conversely, other large groups such as L’Oréal or Chanel show the example: despite a partial stoppage of their activity, they have declared to give up, out of national solidarity, to use the partial unemployment scheme. For its part, the Ministry of Labor warns companies tempted by fraud: the controls will be reinforced and carried out a posteriori.

The fact remains that despite the resources deployed, the partial activity is not an all-risk insurance: “It is a tool well suited to respond to an economic shock, specifies Yannick L’Horty. But if the crisis lasts too long, its efficiency will decrease because it will not prevent business failures and rising unemployment. ” Not to mention the exorbitant cost for public finances… A one-shot bazooka in short.