Unions split; Staff Referendum on Changes to Statutes is Postponed

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Pending the conclusions of an experts’ group set up by Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand, the SNJ, CFDT, FO, SUD and CFE-CGC trade unions decide to put off the staff vote scheduled for January 12. The CGT expresses disagreement, and vows to push ahead with the vote.

[See below for translated extracts from the dissenting CGT statement]

SNJ, CFDT, FO, SUD and CFE-CGC unions representing HQ-status staff at AFP decide to postpone the referendum on plans for changes to the agency’s statutes

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On December 2 the joint AFP unions announced plans to hold a staff vote this January on the plan to change the agency’s statutes drawn up by CEO Pierre Louette, which notably calls for the agency’s transformation into a "national publicly-owned company" in the form of a joint-stock firm (société anonyme par actions).

Since then French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand has announced the setting up of an experts’ group charged with studying AFP’s future and producing a report by the end of April this year.

The creation of the experts’ group shows that the government is playing for time. It is noteworthy that M. Mitterrand’s decision was announced against a backdrop of growing staff opposition to the Louette plan. The CEO himself acknowledged, in testimony before the French National Assembly’s Culture Committee on December 2nd, that if his project were to be submitted to a staff vote he anticipated its "rejection by a very large majority".

The SNJ, CFDT, FO, SUD and CFE-CGC trade unions take note of the setting up of the experts’ group, without any preconceptions as to the proposals it may produce and while reaffirming their commitment to the guarantees of structural independence laid down in AFP’s existing statutes, which are enshrined in a 1957 law.

The unions have decided to postpone the holding of the staff referendum - initially due to take place between January 12 and 26 - pending the conclusions of the experts’ group, and while reserving the right to hold it at any time.

They further point out that the union steering committee set up to organise the consultation asked the CEO for permission to use the agency’s technical infrastructure so as to hold the referendum internally via an electronic vote. M. Louette refused that request.

They also note that the joint union decision to hold a referendum was made at a time when the CEO was visiting AFP’s production services at the Paris headquarters to put over his arguments directly to staff, a move which raised fears that a parliamentary vote on changing the statutes could be imminent. The unions demand that the government, the experts’ group and the CEO provide them with advance information about any future plans for a draft law to change AFP’s statutes, if the government decides to go ahead with its project. The unions would thereby be able to consult staff by asking the simplest possible question: "Are you for or against this project?"

The AFP unions call on staff to remain vigilant and to resist "any change which would have the effect of either turning AFP into a government agency, or handing it over either wholly or partially to private companies of any type and in whatever form" - to quote the key passage from the http://www.sos-afp.org online petition.

SNJ-CFDT-FO-SUD-CFE-CGC trade unions representing HQ-status staff at AFP

Monday January 11: translated extracts from CGT statement

The CGT disapproves of the referendum postponement and calls on staff to vote

The CGT, number-one union grouping at AFP, regrets the initiative taken by certain unions, who in another pirouette have decided to postpone indefinitely the staff referendum which had nevertheless been announced with great trumpet blasts, even before a parliamentary committee. Among AFP staff, many do not understand this new step backwards.

For a large majority of staff the referendum, which had been scheduled for January 12 to 26, was an opportunity to express their rejection of the changes that CEO Pierre Louette, acting on orders from the French government, has proposed to AFP’s statutes..../...

By taking the initiative of a democratic vote, the joint unions had given themselves the means to exert pressure on all those who dream of turning AFP into either a state news agency or a privatised entity, including the "Experts’ Committee" set up in early December by French Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand.

Giving up such a vote therefore means deciding to not show our cards, and letting our opponents regain the initiative.

For the CGT the "Experts’ Committee", chaired by a former CEO who in 1986 brought in a failed plan to sack 150 members of staff, has one name and one name only: the "Pigeat Committee". The CGT has already expressed its position on this - cf our statement: "Experts ou fossoyeurs de l’AFP ?").

The changes to AFP’s statutes clearly remain on the cards: to this day nobody has announced either the withdrawal or even the suspension of the Louette Plan. The Committee in no way represents a snub for Pierre Louette..../...

For the CGT, this is no time for demobilisation, or for postponing our actions. We have no illusions about the conclusions of the Experts’ Committee, and it can in no way be an argument for putting off the planned staff vote..../...

AS OF NOW, THE CGT HAS DECIDED TO TO DO EVERYTHING IT CAN TO ORGANISE THE STAFF VOTE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. The CGT will inform staff as soon as the arrangements and date have been fixed.

The question asked will be the one proposed by the joint unions: ""Do you approve of the plans for new statutes defended by the CEO and involving the transformation of AFP into a joint-stock company?"".

The CGT calls on the other unions to reassess their positions and to join in organising the vote as soon as possible.../...


CGT unions representing all staff categories, Paris 11/01/2010

Further reading (in French)