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“On retirement at 65, there is nothing to negotiate”: Yves Veyrier (FO) warns the government

Yves Veyrier will not serve any other term. The general secretary of Force Ouvrière (FO) is about to hand over in June. If today he sees a certain impotence of the unions, he asks the government to hear the concerns of the French on purchasing power. And assures him: on retirement, there is nothing to negotiate.

L’Express: The observation of a largely fractured France, with a historic score for the far right in the second round of the presidential election, is now widely shared. According to a poll, 31% of FO supporters would have voted for the National Rally. How do you answer them?

Yves Veyrier: This type of poll has many biases. Designating a trade union acronym on a list does not mean sympathizing, even less a member, and abstainers are not polled… I have not heard any activist say openly that he was going to vote for the extreme right . But it’s true, there are more votes for the RN or abstention among the most struggling employee population. Our union does not give any voting instructions, because we are firmly attached to our independence. This does not prevent us from clearly expressing our principles, such as republican and working-class universalism, and we reject the theses which lead to making the foreigner the scapegoat for all our problems. We also recall that the far right is historically about challenging freedom of association. But we must not neglect this vote, which is the expression of a feeling of abandonment, of disarray. It is also a cry for help that is not sufficiently heard by the government. We also have a share of responsibility: that of not having succeeded in uniting these employees on the ground of the union. This is partly what the moment of the Yellow Vests revealed: we must work to organize these employees dispersed in small companies, precarious or part-time workers, this “second line” of which we spoke so much at the time of the confinement. If we want to be listened to, we must have the ability to make ourselves heard.

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How ?

By raising awareness of what trade unions do on a daily basis, for example for salaries in companies and branches, by recalling that they are at the origin of the great social conquests, the minimum wage, pensions, unemployment insurance, what has been forgotten while they are topical…

The call for help today concerns the increasingly difficult end of the month. The President has already implemented a certain number of measures and is announcing others, such as the food voucher, the revaluation of social minima… What more do you ask of him?

Obviously continue the economic measures that block inflation, whether it is the tariff shield or the discount on fuel. But we must also give a significant boost to the SMIC. We are asking for it to be increased to 80% of the median salary, or around 1,500 euros net, and the grid for civil servants must also be upgraded. The bonus of 6,000 euros exempt from social contributions is a one-off response, and which does not help Social Security receipts… We defend the salary in its entirety: the net salary, which allows everyone to live with dignity, and the part devoted to the financing of our social system.

The increase in the minimum wage does not solve everything, and many branches have minima below the minimum wage (85% of them after the last revaluation): should the State once again put pressure on this subject, as he did it at the end of last year?

That he puts pressure is one thing, but we must preserve the freedom to negotiate. A boost to the SMIC goes in this direction, because it would precisely unblock the negotiations. It is easier to make employers understand that they are necessary when the minimum wage increases, especially at a time when there are recruitment difficulties in certain sectors.

Do you agree with Laurent Berger on the idea of ​​conditioning aid to companies on the signing of agreements on remuneration?

The big problem in wage negotiations comes from the thresholds for the reduction of social security contributions (up to 1.6 SMIC, to which was added that from the CICE). These devices crush wages. We would like them to be abolished, or else they be targeted and made conditional on the maintenance of employment and the revaluation of wages in the sectors where they are too low, with control mechanisms and sanctions if these conditions are not are not respected.

Emmanuel Macron has promised a change of method for this new five-year term. What do you expect from him?

The problem with him is that it always comes after the fact… He didn’t even bother to make a phone call to tell the unions that he was going to include the push back. retirement age in its program. The change we expect is to be listened to and for our arguments to be taken into account. Our opposition is not just a slogan: the debate must be put in the public square and I am ready to debate it with the president at prime time!

Are you ready to negotiate on raising the retirement age to 65?

There is nothing to negotiate: we are against it. The deficit today comes from two elements. First of all from a lack of revenue due to the Covid crisis. To reduce this, we propose to introduce an exceptional tax on record profits and dividends. And to solve the more structural problem, the answer is not to raise the legal age, but to improve the quality of employment, from entry into working life until retirement, to increase income and balancing the pay-as-you-go system. The argument of financial balance is no longer even that of the president: we are now told that it is a question of making savings to finance something else, we should know! It is also necessary to stop the extension of the contribution period to 43 years. Our aspiration is to one day retire at age 60. For this, it is necessary to work to bring together the economic conditions. There is something to negotiate there.

Do you approve of Emmanuel Macron’s idea of ​​opening a major social conference dedicated to the financing of “social progress” as soon as he is elected?

These high masses are useless, it’s just communication. François Hollande organized it every year, and what came out of it? Nothing at all ! And asking us to pass over the extension of the retirement age, on the pretext of going to discuss what we would finance with the room for maneuver thus released, would be to ask us to negotiate a social decline…

The unemployment rate is at its lowest since 2008. Aren’t you happy about that?

Of course it is, but you also have to look at the numbers in detail. Unemployment has returned to its 2008 level, but the “halo” (unemployed people who are not considered unemployed within the meaning of the ILO, but whose situation is close to it, editor’s note.) has increased significantly, and many jobs created today are precarious, badly paid or exercised in difficult conditions… This is not full employment.

The president announced a new reform of unemployment insurance – he wishes in particular to vary the duration of compensation according to the economic situation – is this a new red rag?

This is a mistake, and we oppose it. We will negotiate a new agreement with employers in the fall. Let the state let us. He promised a change of method. Well we’ll see then if he sticks to it. Wanting to vary the duration of compensation for job seekers depending on the economic situation is of the same ilk as the previous reform, which limits the rights to reloading. Rather than stigmatizing the unemployed, we must reduce precariousness. Employers have their share of responsibility!

Do you have the impression that the position of the president has evolved on the intermediate bodies? At one time, he said that they were useless…

I’m not sure he’s evolved much. I only saw the president one-on-one once during his first five-year term. It took the Covid crisis for us to remember the role of the unions in terms of health protection for employees, employment with partial activity… We then had meetings almost every week with the Ministry of Work, sometimes at Matignon or at the Elysée.

Is there a risk of social conflagration linked to the question of purchasing power?

As we speak the weather is rather stormy, but the social weather is more uncertain… It is more difficult to mobilize all the employees on the question of wages. The world of work today is more fragmented, unequal, with employees confined to low wages, precarious or part-time, and on the other hand technicians or executives with stable jobs and levels of remuneration that allow them to live more properly.

You will hand over next June. What would you advise your successor to do?

Always unite, and focus on improving our operations to enable us to grow: the more of us there are, the more effective we will be in improving the situation of employees. Over the past four years, we have seen FO on all social issues and we have preserved our representativeness. We have every reason to show ambition and a spirit of conquest.

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You were talking about social conquest at the start of our interview. What could be the new social conquest of this five-year term?

To speak of social conquest, we must first stop social setbacks. This is what mobilizes us most often today… also repairing, for example, our public hospital. And campaign for a sixth week of paid vacation. We were already asking for it at the time of the 35 hours, which were more complicated to set up. A sixth week of paid vacation is more effective and responds to our aspiration to emancipation because it is truly time for oneself.


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