When Temporary Work Companies Commit Themselves to CSR

Friday, June 24, 2016: 10:45 AM-12:15 PM
639 Evans (Evans Hall)
François Sarfati, CEE et Lise CNRS, Noisy le Grand cedex, France
Claire Vivés, CEE et Lise CNRS, Noisy le Grand cedex, France
For whom is a corporate social responsibility policy ? How do recipients manage this policy? What does CSR rest on? We are going back to these classic questions, from the point of view of a French survey about temporary work.

Since 1950’s, temporary work companies hire workers and assign them in user companies. The temporary work sector relies on a “three-way relationship” between a user undertaking, an employee and a work agency. Obviously, the French labour law considers the permanent contract (called CDI) as the normal form of employment contract. Article L. 8241-1 prohibits subcontracting and supply of workers. That means temporary work in France has been implemented unlawfully. Companies of various sizes offered a service without a clear political acceptance.  During the late 1960’s temporary work sector began to organize collectively (Belkacem, 2011). Although CSR policies were still unheard of, Manpower-France bargained with a trade-union, the SNSI, member of the CGT. At that time, sociologists as much as citizens considered temporary work agencies as human sellers (Caire, 1973). One of these companies proposed a frame allowing to legalize this activity and to enhance temporary workers living conditions. This agreement was highly-publicized in the media. Furthermore, it played an essential role in writing law n° 72-1, which anchored temporary work in the rule of law.

The Green paper - Promoting a European framework for CSR shows a political rift between companies and trade-unions. Heads of companies consider it unnecessary to change moral constraints into rules of law. On the contrary, trade-unions push to establish a regulatory framework. Kerbouc’h (2004) underlines the building of a bonding system for temporary agencies was a way to clean up the sector by self-constraint. A few years later, this moral commitment turned into a legal rule. Similarly, funding of skills training and occupational risks prevention policy were self-constraint policies turned into legal rules.

Temporary work sector investment in CSR could be explained as a result of a moral commitment. It is at least as important as a way to keep its place in the intermediation market. It’s necessary to understand why temporary work sector decides exceeding legal obligation. In fact, they try to gain a competitive advantage from this policy. First of all, CSR must be considered as a way to legitimize temporary work. As citizens consider temporary agencies promote precarious working conditions, companies have to improve the sector image and increase the social acceptance of agency work. On the other hand, temporary work companies try to get new market shares, in a world where new forms of short term contract substantially increase (Coopératives d’activité, portage salarial...). When temporary work companies adopt a CSR policy, they are not only interested in moral economies, they think about their place on the intermediation market.

For two years we carried out a qualitative study dealing with genesis and implementation of a new labour contract (Sarfati & Vivés, 2016): permanent contract for temporary agency workers. This new labour contract allows temporary work agency hiring workers on a permanent contract and assigning them in user companies. Agencies are committed to pay these workers on an on-going basis, that is to say when they are in a user undertaking and when they are not. We interviewed worker and employer representatives who negotiated the collective agreement creating the contract. In addition, we followed the implementation of this labour contract with two majors of the sector on which we conducted observations, interviews with senior executives, with branch managers and with recruiters. We also interviewed temporary workers who have accepted or declined the proposed contract.

Because of several of its characteristics, this new labour contract is a borderline case of CSR policy. The creation of this contract for some workers from temporary employment agency covers the whole temporary work professional branch (and not only one company) and is written in a professional branch agreement with some elements included into a piece of legislation afterwards. We think nevertheless it is interesting studying this contract in terms of CSR. Analyzing the collective agreement giving birth to the contract not in a classic way with industrial relations’ tools but in terms of CSR policies allows situating the agreement in long history of regulation construction of temporary work sector.

This survey will develop a critical approach of CSR. It shows indeed temporary work employer representatives and senior executives use the expression of CSR considering implementing a policy aiming at securing career paths of temporary workers contributes to the legitimization of a sector which employs more than 500 000 full-time equivalents each year and which is still viewed as an actor of job insecurity. This sector decides to act for responsible employment and to create this permanent contract for temporary agency workers.

Furthermore, temporary work sector leaders consider this policy is a tool to defend temporary work market shares and if it is well implemented can restore trade margins. We demonstrate the conditions of the conception of this policy were not met to progress in the construction of securing career paths of temporary workers. In practice, drastic selection, realized by agencies, of the temporary workers concerned by the labour contract has the effect of reserving the contract for those who were before the workers most secure in the sector and who have the more regular income.

The collective agreement foresees the signing of 20 000 contracts within three years after its conclusion. Today, more than two years after the conclusion, it appears this objective cannot be achieved. Relying on existing literature on CSR, our presentation discusses the binding character of this commitment and the expected effects of this agreement, beyond the single issue of the binding character of the given objective. We conclude with the idea temporary work sector CSR policy recipients are less temporary workers than policy makers who encouraged the birth of the contract and, in fine, public opinion. In a context of high unemployment, setting ambitious goals regarding job creation and decreasing of precarious jobs give the image of political voluntarism.