Thursday, 6 October 2016

Barriers to hard work and initiative for some expats in France

Unless you've been in my situation it's a bit hard to believe some of the bizarre, counter-productive systems raging in France. I just want to work as much as possible so I can stay here. Recently I asked a French businesswoman why systems are designed to make it incredibly hard to work a normal job. She told me it was the powerful French Unions blocking those of us who want to work as hard as we want, whenever we want. That may or may not be true; it's certainly more complex than that, I think, but when the Code du Travail is significantly heavier than any other European Labour Law tome, throw in the tendancy of the French to support communism and socialism (what the?) and the seeming need to protect some privileged folks against all the other folks (except if you're a public servant in which case you are bullet-proof against anything), well, you have a mix that's resulting in rampant unemployment, disincentives for small to medium businesses, unproductive attitudes and work habits, a wide-spread sense of entitlement even when certain people don't actually need it, well, it's  a toxic mix.

Take my efforts to find work, for example. The crazy systems here are blocking me from becoming a productive and passionate French citizen; here's how.

My visa states I am a temporary salaried worker. That means I have to stay in that category unless something extraordinary happens; I marry a Frenchman (no one want to marry me), I become endowed with 5 million euros to invest (I'm unlikely to be in that situation), or I become naturalised (which I have applied for - it's in the pipeline but might be unlikely to succeed due to my current income). My visa category does not allow me to be self-employed.

Each year I have to renew my carte de séjour (residence card) but to do that I must have a decent job otherwise it's OUT. I have grovelled, cajolled, suffered work abuse and nudged, persuaded my employer to keep me on each year but the rules are strict and change. This year I have had my income (which was never very good) halved. I have a half contract despite the fact there are teachers at the uni doing the same teaching hours and the same work as me but earning double and considered to be working full time. Hey, I once had one of those contracts so how is it I am now half the person I was? Land of egalite? Cost-cutting I suppose.

This new contract means it's difficult for other employers to hire me for a few hours during the week because there are minimum hours I must work for my principal employer in order for me to legally search for other work and they want proof I'm doing them. There's nothing clear or transparent about the amendment to my previous contract that I now operate under. It does not say how many hours I must work, nor does it say how many additional hours I can work. The normal details in a NZ work contract are totally missing. There's just the pay per month before income tax. Through pestering various people I have discovered how many base hours I must work and how many extra hours I can work as overtime. The overtime hours are extremely limited (144 hours per year).

Other employers look at my base hours and say they can't hire me because my principal employer isn't giving me enough hours. I explain that I'm doing some extra work for the uni. The other employers ask where's the proof? I must supply a copy of my past contract and its amendment even though the two documents don't bear any similarity to each other in terms of pay or hours of work. Apparently contracts are not confidential in France. Any man and his dog can demand to see it. I even have to supply payslips from my current employer. I'm not allowed to be self-employed so most folks wanting teachers don't want to hire me because hiring someone on a contract for a wage is too costly because of the social charges. It's chicken and egg stuff. Most unis will not hire me as I don't have a required status from the French system. Too bad I'm a more competent teacher than so many French teachers of English. If I was self employed I'd have to show three years of proof of income as a self-employed person before I could be hired and I can't teach as a supply teacher if I have reached retirement age.

Teachers who do not have privileged permanent positions or who are not civil servants are not hired on merit. You are hired to fill a blank so long as you have the right documents and the right legal status. If you do a good job and the students like you this is no garantee you will ever be employed again by that employer. If your contract says it can be renewed for a second year you'd be silly to believe that. I was shocked to discover that in fact my past contract would not be renewed unless someone with the same sort of contract left the employer just at the right time. In fact you don't get your contract renewed you get someone else's? So why say it can be renewed? Who would have thought? I'm grateful to have some work but my current contract means very few other employers will take a risk and hire me in case I'm not quite legal due to my limited hours. They are also nervous because I must apply for permission to work elsewhere, even though I have only a part time contract and permission can take six weeks. Meanwhile I'm supposed to have started my other work weeks before that. What happens if the principal employer refuses? Won't I get paid for what I've worked?

All this tornado of rules and regulations does my head in every day. Nothing is transparent or honestly portrayed. There are goverment decrees for this, that and the next thing which determine your work but they are never explained on your contract. I gave up trying to understand them on the websites because they are so opaque. Must be a French thing.

If I can't find a principal employer of any kind with certain minimum hours I will not have my carte de sejour renewed next year. I'm still waiting to find out  what's happening with this year's request for renewal. Right now I can only legally stay until 22 December. It's endless stress and I have missed out on being hired elsewhere because of the wall of legal obstacles.

Don't worry about what you can't change, you say. Sure, easy to say but I don't know what I don't know and everything changes anyway. There is no way you can be 'prepared' for this kind of rootless living situation and it's only human to need some sort of clarity and certainty about one's financial status for a year or two or if I'm greedy, three?

I feel I'm in limbo, my life is on hold until I can see my way ahead, until something good or bad happens. No roots, little hope left and with constant reminders of my precarious existence here it's hard to stay positive and my gritty determination is now wearing thin. I just need a decent full-time job but it's uncertain as to whether France wants to give the same commitment to me as I have whole-heartedly given her. So far she just doesn't care.


Julie in Provence said...

Hi Frances,

I'm glad you shared this flipside viewpoint!

People ask me often how I made the move to France and made it work. I'm always careful to tell them the negative as well as positive.

Good luck to you...hope you find the life you're dreaming of!


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