This Sunday, May 7, the world will be watching France to see if the wave of populism that led to Brexit and the election of President Donald Trump will now usher in Marine Le Pen as the new French president. Le Pen leads the country's far-right National Front party and is up against the centrist Emmanuel Macron in this Sunday's runoff poll.
No matter who wins, the new French president will inherit a troubled economy. Many feel the best way to shore up France's economic status would be to reform its employment laws, which are among the most employee-friendly in the world.
Americans themselves are also facing uncertainty when it comes to their own working conditions, as President Trump's Department of Labor nominees have been decidedly pro-business and recently appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch is expected to be a conservative voice on the bench, signaling negative implications for American employees.
Both France and the United States will soon enter a period of significant transition when it comes to employment regulations and conditions. By comparing and contrasting the positions of Le Pen, Macron and President Trump on some key issues it might be possible to gain insights into how two Western democracies intend to act and what impact this may have on their respective country's workers.
Basic Employee Rights - France
French workers currently enjoy far greater protections and job security than their American counterparts. Generally, an employee cannot be terminated unless there is a finding of misconduct or, if a termination occurs due to a restructuring/redundancy, appropriate notice must be given and a process followed for any such termination.
Though French workers lost some of their rights in 2016, they are still far more protected than their U.S. counterparts. For his part, Macron is actually more conservative than Le Pen on basic employment protections. He wants to grow the economy by fostering entrepreneurship and feels that requires loosening up France's labor laws to give businesses room to operate more freely. Le Pen, on the other hand, plans to expand welfare benefits and keep France's controversial 35-hour workweek.
Basic Employee Rights - United States
Unlike the French, most employees in the United States work in an at-will environment. This means they can be fired with or without cause. As long as the termination is not based on discrimination, or in violation of any law, employers have the right to let an employee go at any time. This obviously creates a climate of great uncertainty for U.S. workers. This is not something President Trump is likely to change. In fact, he has indicated he would like to introduce at-will employment for federal employees.
Trump has been decidedly opposed to raising the country's minimum wage to $15. This is a threshold many anti-poverty advocates say would provide workers with a living wage. The current federal minimum has remained at $7.25 per hour since 2009The current, but many states have championed the movement to a higher rate - the minimum is above $10.00 per hour in California, Arizona, Vermont, and Connecticut, and above $11.00 per hour in Massachusetts, Washington state, and the District of Columbia. So far, however, Trump, and his DOL secretary Alex Acosta, seem unlikely to move on this issue.
Marine Le Pen supports an increased minimum wage. It is not clear what Macron's position is on the minimum wage, but given that he seems pro-business, he may not be as likely to raise it as Le Pen. However, he has proposed cutting back on France's monthly social contributions like healthcare and unemployment, which could result in more cash received by employees, including those living on minimum wage.
Both French presidential candidates have cited interest in addressing gender pay inequity. Le Pen has promised to implement a national pay for equal pay, but the pledge is briefly mentioned among other issues in the one and only platform statement (among 144) that specifically references women's rights.
Macron has noted that women are not properly represented on executive boards, in France's national assembly, and in bodies that decisions and equal pay issues and women's workplace rights. He believes discrimination contributes to gender pay inequity, and believes it must be stopped, though he believes existing French employment laws that target discrimination are not implemented or enforced.
These are progressive policies when compared to President Trump. In March, just one week before Equal Pay Day, he signed an executive order that revoked the 2014 Fair Pay & Safe Workplaces order, created by President Barack Obama to ensure federal contractors adhere to employment and civil rights laws. The 2014 order included two rules widely viewed as directly benefiting women - one that required wage transparency, and another that prohibited forced arbitration "cover-up" clauses in sexual-harassment cases. Trump's actions make it clear that championing "equal pay" issues is not a priority for his presidency and many commentators expect further attacks on gender-related employment protections.
As with the 2016 election in the United States, the rhetoric around immigration in France's political contest has been inflated, to say the least.
From the outset, Le Pen's campaign has been outspokenly anti-immigration. It could be said that this is her primary platform. Along with much of Europe, France has been confronted by a significant number of refugees entering the country while fleeing war in the Middle East and Africa. Further, the devastating Paris terrorist attack in 2015 and other attacks (and attempted attacks) since, have led to significant anti-immigrant sentiment in France. Le Pen wants France, and not the European Union (EU), to control the country's borders and the rules around who can be admitted.
For his part, Macron is pro-EU and would like stronger borders and unity among EU members on immigration and refugee policies. He also wants to ensure that certain countries, such as Greece, are not burdened more than others.
President Trump's position on immigration is quite well known. From his calls for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, to his executive orders banning refugees and immigrants from certain countries, he has made his positions clear. Under Trump, deportation efforts have also increased.
Le Pen and President Trump, then, are far more aligned in their views on immigration than either is with Macron. What is clear and alarming is that anti-immigration sentiment may lead to more lax enforcement of anti-discrimination laws that protect individuals on the basis of their national origin, race, and religion and that has become the anticipated outcome in employment cases in Trump's United States and in Le Pen's France, if she wins.
A Shift in Labor Laws
No matter whether it's Le Pen or Macron who wins the French presidency on Sunday, it is clear that the country's workers will have to get used to some changes. They could be minor, or fairly major. For workers used to broad protections, however, any difference is likely to be keenly felt.
For their part, U.S. workers will also have to see how President Trump's rhetoric on labor and employment issues translates into policy. Already in a precarious position, many are afraid that an erosion of employment rights is just around the corner.