French entertainment workers protest at move to cut welfare regime

A special welfare arrangement stretching back to 1936 is under threat

Protesters march on the headquarters of the employers’ federation Medef in Paris yesterday. Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters march on the headquarters of the employers’ federation Medef in Paris yesterday. Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

Fri, Feb 28, 2014, 01:00

Thousands of part-time workers from the French entertainment industry, known as intermittents du spectacle , protested in Paris yesterday at an attempt by the business federation Medef to apply standard unemployment insurance rules to them.

Slogans on banners carried from the ministry of culture to Medef’s headquarters summed up the protesters’ frustrations: “Medef a social partner? What a comedy!”; “Pathetic show at the Medef”; and “Culture’s too expensive? Try ignorance.” Demonstrations were also staged in Lille and Marseille.

France’s special unemployment regime began in 1936, when the nascent cinema industry had difficulty recruiting carpenters, painters and decorators because workers did not want the insecurity of temporary employment. The number of technicians and artistes – actors, musicians and dancers – who benefit from the scheme has burgeoned from a little more than 9,000 30 years ago to more than 100,000 today.


‘Most favourable rules


If an ordinary French worker is employed for four months, he or she is eligible for four months’ unemployment benefits. But an intermittent

who works four months receives eight months’ benefits. A report by the state auditor, the c our des comptes , last November said part-time entertainment workers enjoyed “by far the most favourable rules of any category of jobseekers”.

An earlier report from the state auditor spoke of “massive” abuse, estimating the level of fraud at 15 per cent.

According to Unedic, which administers unemployment insurance, part-time entertainers in 2012 received €1,083 million more in benefits than they contributed to the system. Medef thus claims 100,000 intermittents represent nearly a quarter of the €4.3 billion deficit in unemployment benefits for nearly five million jobless French people.

Other sources, including a recent parliamentary report and the ministry of culture – which supports the system – estimate the extra cost of special insurance for the intermittents to be “only” €300-€350 million.

The rationale for the special regime is that the entertainment industry is seasonal, work is sporadic, hours often long, and workers are not paid for rehearsals and time spent putting projects together.

Culture minister Aurélie Filippetti opposes Medef’s attempts to end the special regime, or at least force the government – not employers – to pay the extra cost.

“Medef’s attitude is aggressive and scandalous,” Ms Filippetti told Le Parisien . “They want to kill culture.”

She said the entertainment sector represented 3.2 per cent of French GNP and that “when you invest €1 in a festival or cultural establishment there are €4 to €10 in economic fallout”.

When a previous government attempted to reform the regime in 2003, the intermittents went on strike, shutting down major festivals in Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Montpellier.

Yesterday’s demonstrations were timed to coincide with the penultimate session of negotiations on unemployment insurance between management and trade unions before a deadline for agreement next month.

Medef is suspected of using the intermittents as a bargaining tactic in negotiations over President François Hollande’s “pact of responsibility”, which is supposed to cut social charges paid by businesses if they hire more people.