THE FRENCH economy is expected to shrink 11 per cent this year because of the coronavirus crisis, much worse than the government’s previous forecast of an eight per cent contraction, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Tuesday.
Le Maire said: ‘The shock is very brutal.’ However, he claimed: ‘I am absolutely certain that we are going to bounce back in 2021.’
France imposed one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns in the face of Covid-19 in mid-March, and only began removing restrictions on May 11.
Cafés, bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen for regular business on Tuesday. In Paris, they remain limited to outside seating only.
Le Maire said: ‘We were hard hit by the virus, we took effective measures to protect French people’s health, but the economy practically ground to a halt for three months. We’re going to pay for it with growth.’
With some 300,000 cafés and eateries reopening on Tuesday, Le Maire said that they would continue to benefit from handouts from a government solidarity fund until the end of the year to help cover fixed costs.
‘Even if it is hard to hear on a day when the sun is shining and the cafés are reopening, the hardest part is still ahead of us in social and economic terms,’ he said.
The government has had to progressively revise upwards the damage caused by the pandemic, and the latest estimate will be included in a recovery budget that will be submitted to ministers on June 10.
Last week, the official statistics agency INSEE warned that the economic contraction would be much larger than the government’s previous estimate of eight per cent, because the pickup as the virus lockdown is eased would only be gradual across the second half of the year.
Le Maire also revealed on Tuesday that the government is seeking buyers for big clothing chains Camaieu, Conforama and La Halle, which employ thousands of people, to avert a string of retail bankruptcies.
The minister had already announced sector-specific support plans for the tourism and car industries this month.
He said measures for the aerospace industry are being prepared for next week and the start-up and building sectors will follow afterwards.
Meanwhile, the trade unions have denounced as ‘blackmail’ the announcement by airline RyanAir to offer its employees a very clear choice – either the pilots and flight attendants accept a 20% drop in wages, or they will be laid off.
‘It is neither legal nor acceptable from any point of view,’ trade union confederation Force Ouvriere (FO) secretary general Yves Veyrier told RTL radio on Tuesday. ‘It is predatory behaviour.’
The trade union leader called on the authorities to be vigilant on these questions, in particular before granting public aid.
FO had warned last weekend that Phase 2 of the deconfinement and slowdown of the Covid-19 pandemic, as presented by the Prime Minister – obviously expected by everyone – would lead to an acceleration of resumption of activity as soon as June 2nd in many areas.
FO Secretary General Veyrier said in a statement addressed to the French prime Minsier, that the union federation ‘regrets that this was not the occasion to announce the end of the state of emergency constituted by the state of health emergency in too many social fields, trade union rights and fundamental and individual freedoms.’
FO cited the recent opinion of the CNCDH (National Consultative Commission on Human Rights) which called for an end to ‘restrictions on rights and freedoms’ brought in ostensibly to combat the epidemic ‘which are now unnecessary … disproportionate, and sometimes discriminatory’, as well as ‘attacks on social democracy and the rights of employees.’
The FO statement went on: ‘Again, and given the major health risk still there, FO considers that the urgency remains that of the implementation of the means of production, distribution and systematic management of PPE (personal protection equipment), care which cannot be the responsibility of employees and their families already hit by the consequences of the developing economic crisis.
‘Faced with the economic and social consequences, particularly in terms of jobs, which are dramatically revealed by the latest unemployment figures, FO once again calls for the suspension of redundancy procedures and for strict control in order to prevent job cuts when public aid has been paid or is paid to companies.
‘While the most precarious are the first victims, FO calls all the more for the abandonment of the unemployment insurance reform of June 2019 and the reestablishment of the conditions of care, in terms of entry into rights, of rechargeable rights and of compensation, of the agreement negotiated in 2017.
‘FO notes that in the absence of sufficient means of protection, the return to school remains progressive and differentiated, and, consequently, uneven, contrary to the principle of equality and uniqueness of the Republic which must prevail in matters of National Education.
‘In these conditions, FO renews the need for public measures to be taken – at the very least the extension of the partial activity scheme – for employed parents whose children will not be able to return to school in whole or in part.
‘Again, the role of shop stewards and staff representatives is essential in order to avoid any discrimination or sanction against employees who are unable to return to work.
‘This is why FO is renewing its demand that all union and employee representation rights, including the CHSCT, be restored.’
- The CGT union federation also issued a statement last week declaring: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic strikes the entire planet regardless of nationality, ethnic or social origin. It highlights the divides between citizens and peoples (economic, social, environmental, health, digital, etc.).
‘This health crisis shows the failure of the capitalist mode of development based on the exploitation of human beings and nature.
‘Social and health inequalities are more obvious than ever and it is the poorest populations who are bearing the brunt of the consequences of this pandemic.
‘According to the NGO Oxfam, nearly 500 million more people will fall into poverty with the crisis – putting them back a decade.
‘In our country, the President of the Republic and the government have regularly called for national unity in the name of the fight against the virus.
‘The President has often referred to a war situation to justify this unity, in memory of other pages of the history of our country. This call for national unity has a double objective.
‘First, a desire to mask the consequences of years of austerity policies on our health system, and simultaneously to divert the attention of the population from the hesitations and failures of power in the management of this crisis, by trying to make citizens responsible and therefore to make them feel guilty.
‘This government’s position could be summed up in this double and incoherent instruction: “stay at home to protect” and at the same time “go to work”.
‘This desire to preserve the interests of capital first has serious consequences for many workers forced to continue working without essential protections. This results in contaminations and deaths for which the authorities and the employers refuse to bear responsibility.
‘The second objective is to prepare public opinion for new social sacrifices in the name of economic recovery, as evidenced by the publication of orders derogating from the Labour Code to increase the weekly working time to 60 hours and up by the end of 2020.
‘Many companies or branches have seized the opportunity to impose derogatory agreements which are often illegal.
‘No question that the powers that be would ever have any self-criticism for the decades of austerity policies, health and job cuts – such as in the public sector – or breaking up social rights or social protection.
‘And yet, if France still has “social shock absorbers” which mitigate the effects of the crisis on citizens and the world of work – compared to countries like the USA – the numerous social setbacks we have suffered since are also highlighted.
‘It is therefore urgent to break with these policies and build another model of society through radical economic, social and environmental transformations.
‘The CGT has always been a force for proposals. It is from these – which we sometimes carry for a long time – that we built this document for a different future. A future to reaffirm that work is not a commodity, that the voice of those who work must be listened to and heard from what they create, what they manufacture. Giving meaning to work, to the collective, while having rights to live with dignity.
‘If ruptures must be made at the national level, they must also be at the European and global level. This is why we want to work with other trade union organisations in the world to globalise social progress by giving a binding character to the international standards and to give more powers to the international organisations (ILO and WHO in particular) of which it is the initial mission.
‘It is time that many voices were raised to say “never again”. The CGT, the bearer of another socially and environmentally friendly project, wants and must contribute to it.’