Section Agence France-Presse du Syndicat national des journalistes
Agence France-Presse Branch of the French National Journalists' Union (SNJ)
News & Views
The COM Plan: Information is Our First Line of Defence
For the past month, AFP’s management has heard little else: the company’s staff are opposed to the Aims and Means Contract (COM) with the French government and the related sale of the company’s Paris headquarters building via a mortgage agreement. Staff are also against the logic implied by those plans. The SNJ, the number-one journalists’s trade union in France on the national level, has consistently denounced the COM, which we see as containing the seeds of a disastrous reduction of AFP’s international reach.
And yet despite rejection by its own staff, AFP’s management has got the board to approve the two-pronged development plan.
Management’s sole commitment in the face of staff opposition has been to promise that it will only act "via the widest possible consultation", and to describe the COM as a "simple road-map", and even as providing "more breathing space". Management has also expressed satisfaction at what it sees as "a certain quality of industrial relations" within AFP.
But high-quality social relations in fact remain a dead letter, as was shown by the recent conflict relating to authorial rights at the Photo department, sparked by the sale of a picture to a far-right political party in France without the photographer’s permission. After having promised before the Works Committee to set up a vague commission to deal with the issue, it was only under the threat of a strike that management, in the space of a few hours, agreed to yield.
As regards the Aims and Means Contract, we aren’t yet in its grip, but plans are already being laid. They include a cut in the amount of freelance work available in France, redeployments at either constant or reduced staffing levels in the bureaus, a reduction in the size of our network in Latin America, plans to fire local-hire staff, a study into the needs for French-speaking staff in Asia and into a partnership deal in Brazil, among other projects.
On the mortgage agreement, meanwhile, management has contradicted itself. Despite its earlier soothing statements about a public-sector partner the deal is in fact to be signed with private-sector companies: Cicobail, Dexia and the CCF. (The latter is a French subsidiary of HSBC).
That is why the SNJ intends to push ahead with its struggle to prevent AFP’s current management from compromising the gains made by the company and its staff, and in particular its ranking as a worldwide news agency. The SNJ in particular warns management against any reductions in the agency’s overall presence outside France. That would threaten the company’s worldwide ambitions, which are in fact laid down in its statutes.
Through its representatives the SNJ intends to fight every inch of the way, on a case-by-case basis, against any and all initiatives liable to weaken the company’s international network, the cornerstone of its mission.
To achieve that aim, the SNJ calls on all AFP staff, wherever they may be in the world and whatever their status, to contact us and let us know about any measures liable to lead to the contracting-out of essential services, any measures affecting the quality of our information or liable to impact on employment or working conditions.
We will be especially vigilant as regards partnership agreements. We will not accept any such agreements which amount to nothing more than the contracting-out of services under the guise of what the CEO has called "delegated coverage."
We will also continue to exercise special vigilance concerning appointments, bonuses and promotions. All the more so in that certain recent decisions tend to show that management has not given up its diehard habits of offering sweetheart deals to favoured employees.
For despite the earnest promises expressed in the Ways and Means Contract, it is clear that the fast track to promotion remains wide open to the members of a happy few - more often men than women - who enjoy the favours of top management. Even if such promotions are certain to lead to an unwarranted increase in the very wages bill that management is supposedly so concerned about.
For as was shown by a recent example in Paris, when a key service already contains an abundance of candidates with the qualifications, seniority and experience needed to run it, can it really be considered either economical or fair to appoint a complete outsider? Particular when the person in question is thereby going to jump several seniority levels at a stroke?
Is that how management plans to give staff back hope in their futures as part of a supposed new era of transparency and equity?
We will be asking more and more such questions, and along with the other unions we will be keeping track of all such abuses. For that reason also we need you to keep us informed, and to help us defend you.
Information is our first line of defence: Please keep those messages flowing in, to the address shown below!
14 November 2003