Medef and the government want it to be possible to work more in certain sectors as soon as the crisis is over to make up for some of the time lost. But the unions do not hear it that way. For now, the employers are calling for a return to work to avoid bankruptcy.

French industry and construction have been slowing down since the start of containment, that is to say since March 17.

Calls for a return to work are increasing. Whether it is the employers or the government, there is great concern for the economic future of the country. Thus, the president of Medef, Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, called on the eve of the Easter weekend “All entrepreneurs who can, to resume their activity now”. In the columns of the “Parisian”, Philippe Darmayan, the president of Arcelor-Mittal and of the Union of industry and metallurgy trades (UIMM), said he was ready to resume work, considering that this economy hibernation“Cannot last very long”. “Otherwise we will find ourselves facing a series of bankruptcies tomorrow”, he warned.

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It is true that the public authorities will not be able to pay 8 million partial unemployment workers for very long. Especially since activity in France has slowed down more than among our neighbors, we tell the government (and that these neighbors could restart faster). Shortage of masks and sanitary equipment, sometimes contradictory injunctions from the executive, French attachment to their health, the explanations are manifold. But everyone is aware of the brutality of the looming recession and seeks to lessen its effects.

Containment is a supply shock

Which pushed the employers to go a step further. Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, declared to the “Figaro” that he “The question of working time, public holidays and paid vacation will have to be asked sooner or later to support the economic recovery and facilitate, by working a little more, the creation of additional growth”. The Secretary of State for the Economy, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, followed suit by warning that it would be necessary “Probably work more than we did before” for ” catch up “ the loss of activity induced by confinement.

“From an economic point of view, confinement is a supply shock, explains Denis Ferrand, CEO of Rexecode. We deliberately restricted the amount of work to contain the epidemic. However, the production of wealth depends on labor and capital. With less work, we will produce less and we will be less rich. Symmetrically, it is therefore necessary to adapt the labor supply as soon as it comes out of confinement to allow certain sectors to restart quickly. It is about catching up some of the wealth that was not created during confinement whenever possible ”.

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This may be the case, for example, in construction or in other industrial sectors linked to long-term investments. In any case, there is no question that all areas of activity are housed in the same boat. Some will have to cope with a persistently depressed activity due to the lack of desire of consumers to spend and will not need it.

The difficulty is that unemployment will rise in the coming months as some sectors run out of workers. But it is complicated to reallocate labor from one sector to another. You cannot improvise yourself as a mason or a welder overnight. This is why the French economy may, temporarily, need on the one hand support for supply – by increasing working hours – and, on the other, support for demand to avoid that a recessive vicious circle sets in, with unemployment pulling consumption down.

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“Totally indecent”

The employers’ statements, however, were severely felt by the unions and the opposition. “It’s totally indecent. Today, workers, like everyone else, are paying the cost of this crisis. It is not for them to pay afterwards ”, expressed indignation the secretary general of the CFDT, Laurent Berger. Xavier Bertrand, president (ex-LR) of the Hauts-de-France Regional Council, argued that employees “Are not responsible” of this crisis.

It seems difficult in any case, if the GDP drops by 10% this year as some economists expect, to ignore everyone’s efforts. In a fractured French society, it will be essential that these efforts be seen as fair, otherwise the end of the crisis will create new tensions. One thing is certain: in the world after, the economic debates of the world before are likely to quickly regain the upper hand in France.


>>> France facing the coronavirus epidemic. What were the different stages of the alert? What is the day-to-day epidemiological situation? What measures has the government decided to take to limit the spread of the pandemic? To support the economy? Answers here in the special “Echoes” file.

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