Section Agence France-Presse du Syndicat national des journalistes
Agence France-Presse Branch of the French National Journalists' Union (SNJ)
News & Views
Hygiene, Safety and Smoke-Filled Rooms
Among the statutory management-union bodies that should be better known is the Hygiene, Safety and Working Conditions Committee, or CHSCT.
As the name suggests, the CHSCT’s brief covers almost all fields related to everyday life in the workplace, ranging from accidents to health via asbestos in ceilings, waste recycling and the lay-out and furnishing of our premises.
It has to be said that management usually only takes an interest in the CHSCT when it needs to get plans for workspaces approved, as was the case at the start of this month for the photo and training services in Paris, and as it will no doubt soon be the case for the International Service (SIT).
While the elected members of the CHSCT are fully aware of the importance of such issues, we often find, to our regret, that other questions, some of them even more crucial for our well-being, get left by the wayside, and put off from year to year with vague statements of intent that somehow never get followed up.
That was the case, until Tuesday February 8, with an issue that concerns absolutely everyone: smoking in the workplace, and the implementation in the agency’s France-based premises of the Evin Law which bans it, while providing for the creation of smoking zones.
Background & Links
For more information on the Health and Safety Committee, see the chsct on this site, and also on the AFP intranet (Chapter heading "Les acteurs sociaux").
Legal Framework in France
Under the French "Evin" law of January 10, 1991, employers are obliged to:
Sites devoted to smoking and the workplace:
Up until now a number of union delegates have insisted on the absolute need to apply the law - which after all has been in force since 1991 - in our premises, and above all to demand that management set aside specific zones and premises for smokers, a possibility the law provides for but does not make obligatory.
All that had happened until now was that the president of the CHSCT, who represents management on the committee, had announced at the start of 2004 that she had asked the CEO to find two rooms or spaces to be set aside for smokers somewhere in the headquarters building. A vague promise indeed, and one which had been repeated at regular intervals but without any further action.
The new development, however, is that the French labour inspectorate, whose officer for our Paris neighbourhood exercised his right to attend a meeting of the CHSCT last October, has begun to take an active interest in the question.
On February 8 the CHSCT’s president thus told us that management was considering, in the near future, enforcing the legal ban on smoking in the first-floor cafeteria. The reason given was that management had received a letter from the labour inspectorate, and was also concerned that somebody could make an official complaint, which under the circumstances would be perfectly understandable.
Apply the Law, but with Humanity
The SNJ has no reason to complain at management obeying the law. But it should be clear for everyone that a blanket ban on smoking anywhere on our premises, without any alternative arrangements for the numerous smokers, will create even greater tensions that have been caused to date by the issue of smoking at headquarters. If only because such a ban would be likely to remain unapplied in corridors, various corners and in a number of offices where smoking still takes place.
As for a ban on smoking only applied in the first-floor cafeteria, it would appear paradoxical in light of the law, and would have little effect other than to push smokers off into nearby areas inside the main building.
As we do not know management’s plans for upcoming changes to our headquarters facilities - the CHSCT has long been waiting for a master-plan, which is in principle a legal requirement - it is difficult to make practical suggestions. In any case that is not the job of a trade-union like the SNJ. We can however point to a couple of possibilities.
As regards the technical possibility of creating smoking zones in open space areas - for example in part of the headquarters cafeteria - company specialists on ventilation seem to have divergent views.
It might be possible, with agreement from both management and the Works Committee - which has responsibility for the facilities on the first floor of the main building - to move the automatic vending machines currently in the cafeteria area to a higher floor, and to somewhat expand the area they are in to make a smoking room. There are no doubt other ways that our cafe zone could be reorganized.
Similarly, in a company where offices move house often, and where we only recently took over a completely new space that is contiguous to the main building, it should be possible to find a few spaces to be set aside for smokers. The more such spaces are found, the smaller each one would need to be.
At bottom it is not just a question of health and hygiene of the highest possible importance, but also an indicator of the state of industrial relations in the company. For one can easily draw a parallel between the situation of illegality as regards smoking, and the anomalies that have for too long been seen on other levels.
It is high time that management did something about these problems, via strict respect for the law, but also with humanity and flexibility. A ban without alternative proposals is not a solution.
17 February 2005