Covid-19 in France: What impact on work?

Work minister Muriel Pénicaud holds a meeting with economy minister Bruno Le Maire and President Macron on Covid-19 measures

As French President Emmanuel Macron has announced tough measures across the country to reduce the spread of coronavirus Covid-19, we answer questions about the impact on work and workplaces.

In his statement made at 20h last night (Thursday March 12), Mr Macron called the virus “the most serious health crisis that France has known for a century”.

Figures from the latest health update (Thursday March 12) show that 61 people have now died in France, and more than 3,000 cases are now confirmed.

The economy and workplaces are already being affected by the virus. The Paris Stock Exchange saw the greatest drop in its history yesterday, closing at -12.3%.

Will I be paid if I don’t or can’t go into work?

President Macron has announced an “exceptional and massive” aid package to help workers affected by the virus. This will apply mainly through the principle of “technical unemployment” status, which will affect tens of thousands of workers nationwide.

Also known as “partial activity” status, this means that workers will avoid losing their jobs if they are not able to work due to self-isolation.

Under the rules, workers receive 84% of their usual net salary, financed by State aid. Companies requesting to be part of the scheme will receive a response from the ministry of work “within 48 hours”, it has said.

Can I work from home?

President Macron called for businesses to enable staff to work from home if possible.

One third of workers (34%) in the private sector - and half in the Ile-de-France region - were able to work from home during the recent pensions strikes, a CSA study by social workplace consultancy Malakoff Humanis found.

Another study done from 6-15 February found that 27% of businesses had already offered their staff the option to work from home, and 36% of employees said their companies had allowed them to do so, to avoid them having to come into the office or stop work completely.

What if I have to stay home to look after children?

So far, ministers have announced special childcare measures will be put in place, especially for parents who work in healthcare (and who are therefore needed to help stop the spread of the virus).

There will be a childcare service put in place for parents who are “necessary for crisis management [of the virus]” - principally, healthcare professionals - implemented “region by region”, Mr Macron said.

This will be introduced “in the next few days”.

National Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer also added that a “minimum [childcare] service” would be put in place, with the exact details still to be worked out.

He said: “We will organise a minimum service, for example for children of professional medical carers, so that they will be able to go into work, precisely to help cure people.”

Work Minister Muriel Pénicaud has also promised that France would have “the most protective system in Europe”, and said that there was “no worry” necessary for parents or employers.

Parents who need to stay at home to look after children will be entitled to compensation, she said, the system for which is already “online” and will be “available from Monday”.

More information will be available for eligible workers imminently.

Will businesses get support? 

Businesses that suffer from a severe drop in activity will be able to delay any payments and taxes that would otherwise be due to be paid to the State.

President Macron said: "All companies wishing to do so will be able to defer - without justification or penalty - the payment of contributions and taxes due in March.”

Businesses using the “partial activity” status will have recourse to State aid to help finance this, with the government aiming to get back to requests on the issue “within 48 hours” of the request, it said.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire had already confirmed that certain taxes and benefits would be suspended for businesses affected by the virus, and that there would be loans available for any small or medium businesses in difficulty.

He estimated that business measures would cost the State "tens of billions of euros”, but said: "We will do whatever is necessary and more to support our economy and our businesses. It will undoubtedly be very costly for the state.”

Is there a recovery plan in place?

President Macron did not confirm a definite economic recovery plan or budget in his speech, but said that he was preparing a plan.

He said: “I have asked the government to prepare a national and European recovery plan, consistent with our priorities and commitments for the future."

The President also called for support from the European Union, and said it should react “quickly and strongly”, saying that the measures announced by the Central European Bank did not go far enough.

He said: “We Europeans will not allow a financial and economic crisis to spread. We will react strongly and we will react quickly. All European governments must take decisions to support activity and kickstart it [again], whatever the cost.”

He also highlighted the importance of cooperation between nations, saying: “Division will not help us to respond to what is now a global crisis. Our ability to see straight [will do that]. We must avoid nationalist isolation. This virus has no passport.”

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