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Basic rights not found in French workplace

I have had some time to think about all the crazyness that has become normal to me over the past few months.  I think that the move back to the States was the right move.  I just could not live in a country that supports discrimination for any reason.  I am a woman with four children.  However, it has no bearing on my ability to do a good job.  If a company must pay more due to hiring me that is a cost of doing business in France and should have no bearing on my being hired.  The decision to hire me should be made on questions that pertain to the job that I would be asked to do and nothing more.

I think things should be kept simple and fair.  If I am being given a social aid (allocations) to help my children….it should help my children.  However, if I am getting only around 450.00 Euro per month but can’t get a job because I have four children and in France the potential employer has the right to ask ridiculous questions. Well, they can keep the allocation money which is not enough to live off of and I will go to work.  I didn’t go to college to sit at home with kids trying to make it month to month with the little money that the French government gives me.  I deserve a fair chance at getting a job based soley on how well I can sell myself.  If I am asked questions about how many children I have and how I will be able to work with so many children…..I might as well go back to the middle ages.  I am a woman with four children and to discriminate against me because of it is wrong FOR ANY REASON.  Just as it is wrong to discriminate against someone for the color of their skin or religion.  Period.  France can keep the money. I am going to work.  America is not perfect but at least in the work place it is much more advanced than France.  Vilay had recorded his overtime hours that his last job never paid him.  He must take them to court which can draw out to up to two years.  Why in France is the recording of an employees hours not the responsibility of the employer?  In America,  if the employer doesn’t provide the employee with a way to record the hours worked then the employee can sue the employer and win.  The employee is protected and so is the employer.

I think that France is wrong in not fixing these basic protections against discrimination and abuse of employees.  It is a shame that not too long ago public property was destroyed due to the CPE.  However, no one protests against the fact that France is seriously behind the times in providing basic workers rights and protections. Somehow it is not a big deal.

For my family it was what drove us from France.  How can you make a decent life in a country where it is impossible to find basic worker rights or even more to the point…women rights….human rights?   I have been filling out job applications since arriving in the States and not one has asked about my PERSONAL life.  Not one.  My goal in life was not to be dependent upon government aid.  My goal in life was to have a family and support that family in a manner that was based on my abilities as a person.

I felt angry and trapped in a life and situation that was not fair.  I will work and if anyone in America asks me about my kids it better not be in an interview. If they do I will be suing them because now more than ever I understand how very wrong and hurtful it is.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Alison August 20, 2006, 3:20 pm

    In my browsing yesterday, I read about a book called “Enfin, Un Boulot” by a Frenchman named Vladimir Cordier. He moved to London several years ago to find work. His book is (apparently) an interesting commentary on the French workplace.

    France can be great, but the unemployment situation there is lamentable, as the French would say. Employers were asking you about your children because they had to figure you would need time off if your kids were sick or whatever. Also, women of child-bearing age seem to be less desirable for that very reason: they might go off and have a baby. Gah!

    I understand your frustration, and I am glad that you and Vilay took the bull by the horns and made the move that will benefit your family.

  • Pauline August 20, 2006, 4:18 pm

    I think we will have to agree to disagree on this. I wouldn’t have any problem being asked about my ‘family’ situtation during an interview.
    Living in France, being British and working for a major american company. As a working mother I have advantages over my collegues who have no children.

    – Three days per year for child sickness (paid) on top of my vacation days
    – Half a day off (paid) at the beginning of each school year
    – Bonus at the end of year paid in gift vouvhers. One per child
    – Flexible woking hours

    By the way I know many people in various companies around France and generally speaking 35hours working week is stuck to. The overtime is not paid but recuperated (everyone knows this from the beginning, it doesn’t come as a surprise. All this is all kept in check by the unions, who are strict about it, I guess your husband fell upon a company that were more ruthless.

    Hope all goes well for you back in the USA, hopefully this will help you spend more time with your eldest daughter too.

  • Jube August 21, 2006, 11:13 am

    “However, no one protests against the fact that France is seriously behind the times in providing basic workers rights and protections. Somehow it is not a big deal.”

    Oh! So you’re saying that all the capitalists who blame the French system for protecting workers too much were just fooling me? Gosh! I knew I shouldn’t have believed them!
    Discrimination exists in all countries. I am sorry if that happened to you in France. Does it happen more than anywhere else? Sorry I forgot to buy my discrimination-o-meter at the mall. Please don’t generalize.

  • Pumpkin August 21, 2006, 2:12 pm

    Asking me about my children is discrimination and it is obviously wrong. If I get certain benefits as a mother in order to aid my children that a company must accomidate then that is a cost of doing business that they know about when they set up shop in France. It is not a free ticket to discriminate. Yes, Jube, there is discrimination in all countries but this is beyond belief since France is a “modern” country. I think the things I am talking about are simple protections for workers…human rights. I The CPE was stupid and unimportant compared to these rights that are not provided….I don’t understand why you don’t see that. Also, the 35 work week is not enforced for retail across the board. If you are in an office you are ok. My husband had a problem with two large well know groceries in Alsace one of which is one of the biggest in France. I also saw a cooking show on tv where the chef didn’t hire a mother of three because she had three children. He actually said that was the only reason other than that she would have been great. I am sure she felt the same way I did when I was sitting in my interview…that is not fair and that is clearly wrong. Replace mother of three by black and you see it a little more clearly. I only see that France is afraid to change even if it is for the better. Social aids is great but not at the cost of my right to be treated fairly as a human. If workers are bad in America the process to fire is started…it is not easy to fire someone and cover your ass legally in the States any more than it is in France. I worked as a manager in two different fields and had to keep bad workers as I coached and recorded all the progress on these workers….basically, building a paper trail of my attempts to help the worker move along and present in court if need be. So, for my the whole CPE and France protects its workers is a joke. Protecting workers to the point that companies are afraid to hire is not a good thing. France just need to make it fair and establish basic safe guards for the workers and the companies that employ them. That would be a huge jump.

    Wrong is wrong no matter how you try to cover it up. I am not talking about politics or cultural issues here…I am talking about basic human and worker rights. Simple.

  • jube August 21, 2006, 5:37 pm

    I am not covering anything up. But this is very naive to believe that “basic human rights” are better in your country. I could find tons of French expats blaming America for the exact same reasons. This is just ridiculous to believe that one’s country is the best.

  • Jessica August 21, 2006, 5:43 pm

    Pumpkin, I think you’re absolutely justified in making these observations. Affirmative action, for all its flaws, has gone a long way to promote women’s and minority rights in the US. It’s sure that many American employers would be asking these questions (about children, etc) if wasn’t illegal, and many women who are pregnant during a job interview will try to conceal this, because they know it will decrease their liklihood of being hired.

    France has yet to acknowledge a problem, and is very squeemish in taking about inequality. But talk to a minority, or in our case a woman with 4 children, and their’s no denying the reality.

    No question that these questions shouldn’t be asked.

  • Doc August 21, 2006, 5:46 pm

    “How can you make a decent life in a country where it is impossible to find basic worker rights or even more to the point…women rights….human rights?”
    You can’t. Which begs the question: Why did you return to the US?
    Basic worker’s rights? Like what? Paid vacation? Mandatory insurance? Sick leave? Maternity Leave?
    Women’s rights? Like the right to education?
    Human Rights? Have you heard of Guantanamo?
    The France you describe is not at all like the France where I live. Sadly, it sounds more like the US I left–where I was threatened by my former employer with loosing my job for taking my (now ex-)husband in for EMERGENCY surgery, where I worked god only knows how much uncompensated overtime because I was on a salary and buddy, you work those hours or you join the unemployment line, where I paid over $500 a month for shitty at best health insurance with a $1000 deductable and $20 co-pay,and vacations? what’re they?
    I’m sorry France has left such a bad taste in your mouth. If the worst thing you can say is that you got asked about your kids in a job interview (because they have to ask those questions for your benefits) than that’s very sad indeed. Perhaps you should have taken up the CAF’s libre choix d’activité in addition to your allocations, maybe even asked for their benefits for housing. (with 2 kids, I’m paid almost 700€ a month, and they’ll start paying some of our mortgage as soon as we move into our house) Sounds to me like your problem was more one of communication than anything else.

  • Jessica August 21, 2006, 5:47 pm

    Pumpkin is talking about one issue – the right to ask personal questions in job interviews, illiciting information that can be used to discriminate. She isn’t talking about the state of human rights in general. Not that she needs me to defend her, of course.

  • Pumpkin August 21, 2006, 8:02 pm

    France has not left a bad taste in my mouth…I think I clearly stated that we have problems here in America too….as far as your job situation, Doc…you should have taken them to court….you would have won and they wouldn’t have done it again…I was speaking about my personal situation in France as a mother of four children….I still don’t why the employer has the right to ask how many children I have because they have a company in France….it is part of the cost of doing business in France….I should only be judged by my ability to do the job in question and not how many kids I have or the aid I receive becomes my prison. That is not fair. As far as Vilay not getting paid for working almost 35 hours overtime in less than two weeks….he could have taken the employer to court and he would have won because he recorded his hours and the employer never provided a timecard or timeclock in which to record his hours with them….which by the way protects the employer as well. It is the law at least in Ohio that an employer must provide a means for the employee to record their hours worked….if you work more then you get paid and if not there is a written record….it is the law that in the US women do get maternity leave of up to 12 weeks….I never said America was better than France in these matters but America is not as bad as the French like to pretend….what baffles me is that the French are so good at providing these benefits and protections without carrying it all the way through into the workplace. Just because I get some aid or benefits is not a reason for me to turn my back on what is still clearly wrong and must be changed…other countries make fun of Americans for sueing…however, when companies lose money somehow they become more ‘moral’….And it is true that if American companies could get away with the same things that the French based companies do…they would and did in the past before the laws were set in place to protect workers and employers. It is for the good of both the employer and employee. I worked in America and while it was hard I was not turn away from a job based on the number of children that I have. I was given time off to take Angel to her first day of school and if there was an emergency no one stopped me from going or else I could sue them. America is alot of things but don’t pretend that you didn’t have legal rights. My husbands chances of getting the almost 1000 Euro that his former company owes his is slim and will take up to two years which is a joke considering how open and shut it should be….Doc, you had a bad employer and in my opinion these are usually very small companies that are run by people that don’t know how much an employee can get for these important laws they were breaking…you should have taken them to court. I would have. That is the only way to make things change….hitting them in the pocket book somehow makes people do what is right in all countries…too bad in France we couldn’t just get what was owed to us…and don’t even get me started on how long it took my husband to get his Assedic paper from them. We had no funds coming in for up to two months except for the money we got for the kids. I don’t have a bad taste in my mouth in regard to France…I still love France….let’s just say I saw the reality. When you can’t feed your kids it is not fun. If I were not discriminated against I would have been working at a large American company in Alsace speaking only in English to customers over the phone…I was more than qualified for this job….I didn’t get it because of my children and this didn’t help when Vilay was screwed by his former employer….Can you see the problem? It was a huge one for me when I was sitting at my inlaws with no money….the social aid and benefits were nice but why do I have to be trapped by them? Who does that help and how does that make France a stronger country? I don’t think it does. I talk about what is bad in America and now I am talking about what is bad in France. I see how both countries are beautiful and ugly….however, after all that happened in both countries based on my education and the opportunities to further both our educations in America…we have more opportunities available to us in America without being dependent on social aid for the rest of our lives in France. I don’t want to live off of welfare.

  • Aurelie August 25, 2006, 6:58 pm

    While I generally agree with the central point of your post, I cannot help but wince at the affirmation that “France is seriously behind the times in providing basic workers rights and protections.”
    The paradox of the situation is that your predicament is partly a result of these workers protections: employers are seeking the best way to keep workers protection from wrinking the neck of their company. This is in my opinion very similar to the crazy housing-rental situation in France – because it is so difficult for a landlord to evict a tenant (2 years min. after they cease to pay rent in most of the cases I’ve heard of) you end up in a situation where it is near impossible to rent if you are not hired on a permanent contract.
    Anyhow, back on topic, I must now insist that the current workers rights are only “partly” to blame – very sadly, discrimination against women on the job market is a very real problem in France. Significant difference of salaries between men and women in positions that are equivalent in terms of responsabilities and seniority are usually talked of. But I am mostly appaled to see when the subject comes up in a discussion, a lot of people in France – even in their 20s or 30s – consider it normal to mention their date of birth on a resume, and worse still that employers should be concerned about possible pregnancies in their women employees. Even though it is very common for mothers to work, even though it is legal also for fathers to take a parental leave, I know too many who’d think it fair for an employer to hire a man over a woman “just in case”.

  • Pumpkin August 26, 2006, 1:02 am

    I think that in America it is not perfect either in regard to women getting fair pay and advancement opportunities. However, it is much better than 10 or 20 years ago. I think over time France will have to change. It is just not fair to require photos on resumes or to opening ask for someone a certain age. I saw help wanted ads all the time asking for a man or women of a certain age. I cringed each time I read one.

  • Cathy Y. August 26, 2006, 8:13 pm

    I think the issue about the job discrimination that Pumpkin mentions is part of a larger issue of “equal access for all citizens.” I noticed this concept was different when I traveled in Europe in May 2005 with two children, including a small infant. I was surprised at the lack of easy access for people on wheels (baby strollers, wheelchairs) in the 4 countries that I visited (including France). Often times, the only access to a restroom was down a steep flight of stairs. If I hadn’t had a teenager with me or other adults to help with the baby, I wouldn’t have been able to use the restroom in many places! Equal access for citizens on wheels in Europe is apparently behind the level in the U.S., but my husband’s cousin in France, who works in construction, tells us that new construction has such access. Still, there are many quite old buildings there, and I’m sure it will be some time before things change.

    In the same way, I want to offer the perspective that I think that “equal access” is the larger issue here with the job situation that Pumpkin described that she experienced as the mother of 4 children. If the U.S. also had allocations for child payments and the employer needed to know this, it would only be permitted to be asked AFTER an offer of employment was made and accepted based solely on QUALIFICATIONS. Questions about one’s family are strictly illegal in the U.S., because on a national level it creates a class of citizens who are disqualified from earning a living and being productive members of society. In the U.S., it is the employer who must be inconvenienced, not the individuals and family members of society, who must bear the financial brunt. Still, as another poster pointed out, we have weaker job protections here, very little vacation, more spotty access to (expensive) health care, no guaranteed education past high school. No where is perfect, that is for certain. Still, I feel Pumpkin is correct in feeling the indignation that she feels. The larger question is, which is right, and whose responsibility is it to make certain that all families have an equal access to earn a living? The employers, or the families? Food for thought.

  • Pumpkin August 30, 2006, 3:20 am

    Cathy, You made really great points. It was such a pain with the strollers in Strasbourg. I haven’t posted yet about our adventure in Paris with two strollers and three children. Let me just tell you I got a great workout!

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