The subject is technical but could have repercussions on the lives of tens of thousands of employees. For several months, the Ministry of Justice has been working on an ordinance reforming the order of creditors during bankruptcy proceedings. Behind this barbaric formula hides a very simple reality. Today, when a company finds itself placed in compulsory liquidation (what is called a collective procedure), the legal representative, appointed by the commercial court, will start by paying the salaries. When there is no money in the company’s coffers, it pays these wages from an advance made by the wage guarantee scheme (AGS). Then, he will sell the company’s assets (machines, store walls, motor vehicles, stock, etc.), which will enable him to pay creditors, according to an order set by law. Currently, the AGS benefits from a “superprivilege”, that is to say that it is very well positioned on the list: it can thus be reimbursed for sums previously advanced. This is precisely what is at stake today.
“This text will destabilize the wage guarantee scheme”
The text of the government ordinance, extremely technical, has given rise to a furious battle of interpretations for several weeks. Opponents, who for once unite in the same camp workers’ unions and employers, accuse the government of wanting to dry up the finances of the AGS, by demoting it in the order of creditors. Founded in 1974, against the backdrop of the economic crisis, the wage guarantee scheme is of course likely to play a major role in the coming months, if a wave of bankruptcies hits the country: in addition to the payment of wages, it also advances severance pay when company finances do not allow it. Today, the AGS benefits from two sources of funding: a fraction of employer contributions, and the sums recovered by legal representatives during liquidations, if sufficient funds remain.
“If the AGS receives less money during liquidations, then this will automatically reduce the level of its working capital, assures Michel Beaugas, confederal secretary of FO. Today, employees who are victims of judicial liquidation often have to wait up to two months to receive the sums to which they are entitled (wages, severance pay, paid vacation). The risk is that, tomorrow, the AGS will take even longer to pay employees. ” If ever the reform affected the finances of the AGS, there would of course be a very simple way to compensate for the shortfall, by increasing the amount of employer contributions … “This type of solution is very little to the taste of Medef”, quips Michel Beaugas.
“It is even the opposite that happens systematically, abounds Denis Gravouil, of the CGT. During the negotiations on the reform of unemployment insurance, in 2017, the employers said they wanted to make an effort, by increasing the amount of unemployment contributions by 0.5%. In fact, at the same time, he decided to reduce the amount of the AGS contribution by the same amount! Suffice to say that, for them, it is always out of the question to increase their contribution. “
On the side of the CFDT, we are also standing up against the reform project. “While an increase in business bankruptcies is to be feared, this text will destabilize the wage guarantee scheme, seeing its possibilities of recovering the sums advanced greatly reduced,” writes the union. Ultimately, it is the employees who will suffer the consequences, with a deterioration in the coverage of salaries and their allowances. “
For the opponents of the reform, it is not a question of adorning the AGS with all the virtues: no one questions the capital importance of its role in business failures, let alone in the current situation, but many criticize its management. “ We have been asking for years that this organization become truly equal, so that unions have a voice in the matter, says Denis Gravouil. Today, it is only the employers’ organizations that sit on it. ”