back to work. but for how long? exceptional aid from the French government.

I went back to work on Monday of this week. For two months and twenty days – since March 18th – I stayed at home while receiving full pay. I am immensely grateful for that; grateful to the French government and to my employer. The office tower was near-empty when I returned. The cafeterias, coffee shop and gym closed, the reception desks empty, only four people allowed in each elevator at a time. Signs everywhere reminding us to wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid touching surfaces and wash our hands frequently. Antiseptic gel stations scattered around the lobby and on all floors. Extraction fans installed in the elevators to remove airborne contaminants.

Normally, there are 5,000 employees in my office tower, this week there were only a thousand. It was quiet and, dare I say, pleasant. I was busy all week doing one aspect of my job: carrying out the legal formalities required following our annual general shareholders’ meeting. For the first time ever, and in lieu of our stakeholders and representatives flying in from Africa, Asia and the Arab world, the meeting was held by audio conference.

Next Monday will be a lot brisker. The cafeterias and gym will re-open and many more will return to work. I’ve heard, though, that those telecommuting/teleworking from home will be encouraged to continue working at home until September. Why? To avoid overcrowding on public transport and possible outbreaks of COVID-19. As it stands, employees who have returned to the office are working staggered hours or on rotation –  again, to lessen crowding on public transport. It’s mandatory to wear a mask on all public transport, if not one risks a fine of 135 euros.

The French government’s exceptional scheme, called “partial employment” or “paid furlough”, cost the State a staggering 31 billion euros. Over one million companies applied for this exceptional aid and more than 13.3 million employees, including myself, were the recipients. Merci, President Macron!

It worked like this: a company files a request with the Ministry of Labor, and the ministry pays the company 84% of each employee’s net salary. The company can or can not, there’s no obligation, complete the remaining 16% for the employee. My employer paid that remaining 16%. Merci, mon employeur!

The idea of this exceptional scheme is to avoid mass layoffs and unemployment. Better to keep workers employed and pay the companies to pay their salaries, rather than pay out unemployment benefits to millions.

HOWEVER, this will soon change. President Macron is scheduled to speak to the nation tomorrow night at 8 pm on TV. As of July 1st, the government wants to follow the German model wherein a ‘partially unemployed’ or ‘furloughed’ employee will only be paid 60% of his net salary by the government instead of 84%. Other European countries have been saying that France is too generous.

For some companies, this reduction in aid/compensation by the State will force them to proceed with lay-offs. In the end, the ‘partially unemployed’ will find themselves simply unemployed, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of the state intervention to save jobs.

But the worst is yet to come: for months now, all I’ve been hearing and reading in the media is that a gargantuan economic recession – as bad as or worse than in the 1930s – is on its way and will hit the country like a tsunami in September. France is already in recession. “800,000 jobs will disappear,” warns the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire. And yet the government wants us to spend money to revive the economy. If I think that I might lose my job in the third or fourth quarter of this year, why would I want to spend money? One’s instinct is to hunker down and save.

The economic outlook is bad. The Bank of France estimates that the unemployment rate will exceed 10% by the end of 2020 and climb to a peak above 11.5% in mid-2021. And it won’t be until 2022 that it will descend to 9.7%, against 8.1% which was the rate before the COVID-19 pandemic.

I’m going nowhere this summer, except Lille. Portugal was cancelled (I should be there right now) because of grounded planes, and I won’t go to London in August because of that government’s disastrous handling of the crisis there (over 41,000 deaths to date and rising! As of June 16, 42,054 deaths in the UK.)

Below is the link to OECD Economic Outlook. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an international organization of countries.

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the severest recession in nearly a century. Given the highly uncertain path to recovery, the OECD presents two possible scenarios: one in which the current virus surge is brought under control, and another one in which a second global wave hits before the end of 2020.

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