did inflexible European (e.g. French) labor laws result in lots of contractors? if not, why not?

if it’s hard to hire full-time people, we could expect businesses to seek to hire part-time. If it’s hard to hire even part-time, we could expect efforts to hire people (at least the professional types) remotely, online, and try figure out ways to make that work (not that it’s easy, but necessity often enough is a real mother).

That’s in theory. So what is actually happening nowadays in the labor market for professionals in France, Germany and whatever other tough labor law European countries?

Is it hard to hire people in Europe?

I am not following the question directly as written either. However, I think he is asking whether the risk and responsibility of hiring people as permanent workers in some European countries caused companies to find other employment arrangements like contractors who wouldn’t be treated exactly the same under the labor laws of that country. You see that in the U.S. a lot. I work for a mega-corp at a fairly high level position but they don’t employee me directly. I work for a consulting company that manages me. I never saw the problem with that because I get paid one way or another and my consulting company can step in if I am asked to do more than expected. Lots of people in my situation do that long-term. No IT job is permanent in the traditional sense of the word so I don’t make many real distinctions between myself and the employees of the client and they don’t either.

I’m not seeing this either. However, it is hard to *fire *people (at least here in France it is) and therefore bosses might be more careful in who they hire or how.

For example, it’s not possible here in France to hire a guy on a fixed duration contract more than once, as that was a way bosses kept employees under their thumbs with a Damocles sword over their heads. So now, once the first temp contract is over, the only options are to either letting the worker go, or hiring them permanently. At that point it becomes very costly to fire the worker unless there’s some severe, demonstrable/proven problem with him (shirking work, attitude, sexual harassment - serious stuff). OTOH, firing him on a whim or for economical reasons will cost the employer a great deal in severance packages, and they’ll be forced to pay the worker a portion of his former salary for some time as well I believe (not sure about this one - might be it’s the State paying the worker, with his former employer getting higher taxes in return. I’ve never been in this situation so I don’t know quite for sure. I’ll ask around if I can remember to.).

Consequently what often happens is that, unless you’re pretty damn good and/or irreplaceable at what you do, you’ll have a hard time getting hired for good. I know many people my age (late 20s) whose CV is just a string of CDDs (temp. contract) because the place they worked at didn’t want to deal with the hassle and just hired temp after temp for their non-critical positions, dangling a permanent contract in front of them to motivate them then canning them and starting over with a new mark. It’s a bit of a shitty situation to be in, too, because prospective employers then wonder just why you were never hired and some assume it’s because you’re a jerk or lazy.

At higher levels, what **Shagnasty **talks about happens as well: I’ve worked with a few IT companies that “outsourced” some of their work, and by that I mean they got into a contract with another IT company that would ship workers in for the duration of a mission. Those workers had permanent contracts with the outsourcing company and were paid by them, but for all intents and purposes were long term temp. workers in the first IT firm.

ok, that makes sense. In fact, given that the IT temp agency would also be affected by the difficulty of firing law, the natural outcome would be that the professional employee would rack up lots of short stints of employment not just with different end-user companies but also different temp agencies. This might create some problems with long term codebase maintenance, but, then again, it might also give rise to some interesting research and innovation in the field of documenting the code and “team continuity” so to speak. If the military can keep advancing while losing and replacing men and materiel, why not a software company :slight_smile:

Now on to the second part of my OP, why doesn’t this lead to a lot of internet-mediated professional services where it is unclear who is employed by whom? Let’s say why can’t a French programmer work as a freelance employee of a Chinese company that may or may not be selling programming services to a French client? As long as the French freelancer never actually shows up on the doorstep of his actual client and interacts with them purely through the Chinese company’s project management system, isn’t everybody staying within the letter of the law?

IIUIC, it works the same in France as in Spain, with the severance package being paid by the employer but unemployment subsidy being paid by the state (the subsidy is a portion of the former salary but with a cap; in Spain the portion is “40% of your former pretax salary” but the cap is thereabouts of minimum wage). In the Spanish case, unemployment subsidies come from SS tax, which for employed people is paid half by the employee and half by the employer (the self-employed pay all our SS tax and do not get unemployment subsidy if we decide to stop being self-employed; we do have access to the other unemployment benefits).

In Spain there WAS a huge rise in temp agencies when there wasn’t a specific law about temp workers, and under the first Temp Workers’ Law which was basically a piece of shit. The second TLW, which included measures such as “anybody who’s worked for a company for 2 years can claim to be an employee of said company, and not of any temp agencies” or “subcontractors must work the same hours as direct employees” saw a rise in the number of “false self-employed people”: people who’d be told, for example, “ok, you’re getting fired, you’ll buy from us the truck you’ve been driving for us for 5 years, you will not change our logos and you will work exclusively for us”. The new Self-Employed Law is supposed to fight this with its figure of the “Dependant SE”, but the conditions listed for being able to claim dependency are absurd (1); I imagine they’ll get fixed at some point.

I’ve known companies which, under the first TLW, would have many people from TempsRUs, fire them when the factory closed over Easter, hire the same people from Temping Galore, fire them in August…

And, I’m currently on a project in Spain, and some of my coworkers (all Spaniards) are subcontracting via British firms. Subcontracting chains can have as many as 5 people taking a fee off. My mother likes to say “for someone who’s single, your job sure feeds a lot of dependants!”
1: most of the conditions make sense, but this one does not: “part of the subcontractor’s pay must be dependent on the contractor’s performance or volume of work”. Most regular employees don’t get that kind of bonus, who the fuck would have it for subcontractors? The volume part works for construction workers or truck drivers, but not for people in clerical positions, IT, engineers… of which there are many thousands employed through subcontracting firms.

thanks for sharing, Nava. It’s interesting that there hasn’t been more consolidation and cut-out-the-middleman activity in the industry.

Am I correct in my supposition (also voiced in the OP) that this environment leads to greater than optimal turnover in software related businesses, creating difficulty with codebase maintenance? Or is the turnover in practice no worse and no better than what is happening in America/Canada, perhaps because both regions have their own distinct driving forces behind it that add up to a similar outcome?

My current situation is:

Me, self employed, hired by
small agency, hired by
big agency, hired by
end client.

The end client deals exclusively with the big agency, which in turn deals with only six other agencies. There are people who have a further step, another agency which is hired by one of the six.

Advantage to the end client: a single point of contact for all their IT needs.
Advantage to the big agency: they only deal with six points of contacts. What these points of contact do is their own problem.
Advantage to me: I get paid. The agent who hires me pays my rate, whatever cut he can get is addded to that. I’ve known agents who charged a 10%, others who charged a “blind rate” (not related to how much they were paying) that could be as much as twice what the actual IT person was being paid.
Advantage to anybody else who can nudge its way into the chain: money.

We sign contracts, often as soon as the agent we’re directly dealing with gets us an interview, promising not to jump over their head. There are cases of people who do that, but it’s viewed as “burning your ships”: word gets around, so if you end up leaving that job you’ll have a reputation as an untrustworthy piece of shit - any agent who can offer someone else, will.

What do you mean “codebase maintenance”? The maintenance of the programs themselves? Those are usually handled by in-house personnel or by subcontracting firms with long-term contracts; there should be no more problem than with having your housecleaning done by MaidsRUs or your piping handled by a plumbing company rather than by in-house plumbers. Of course, how many problems you actually have depends on things like whether the documentation is any good - but, well, the people my “batch” of consultants replaced didn’t just have bad documentation skills, they were bad period; IME, good people leave decent documentation (it may be in .docs or it may be in *rems, but it’s there). I’m currently being sent home due to “temporary redundancy”, the end client thinks they can ask for me back when they need me again in a few months: I don’t know whether I will be available then, I do know that if I am I will ask for a higher rate, and I do know that my own documentation is good so if I end up being replaced, so long as my replacement knows his ass from his face he should be fine (I’ve had people who took other projects over from me, or clients, tell me years later that they loved my documentation, “everything was there!”)

Originally, the end client thought that this big agency was actually providing “its own people”: people hired in a permanent basis, trained by them, who knew each other and had common procedures. This is what agencies sell, but it’s often not true, they have a mix of in-house and externals. When they discovered this, the end client bought the big agency. They didn’t really eliminate that step in the chain, but they did gain direct control over it; now when the people from that agency try to bullshit them, their owners remind them who’s got the shovel’s handle. This is unusual, though: many end clients believe that their own big agency provides “its own people” even after years of dealing with them.

Nava, I think the question is whether not having the original person working on the code happens more often in Europe than in America, and if that negatively affects anything. I know that I comment extensively (almost every line) because I know first hand how difficult it can be to interpret someone else’s code. And I still bet that someone would have difficulty understanding it.

Having the original person work on the code happens as often, IME, on both sides of the Atlantic. Frankly, the biggest problem there is not local subcontractors, who can easily be found and rehired for touch-ups or knowledge transfers: the biggest problem is when it got subcontracted to India and you don’t even know who the original programmer was, much less have a way to locate him.

I’m being directly employed on a 12-month contract (though I think it’ll be renewed). It’s all I can get at the moment (though it’s pretty well paid).
I was going to be working on a contract at £200 a day for an agency, who were hiring on behalf of Fujitsu, who in turn were going to be supplying our services to British Telecom (due to the nature of the work, just about the only people they could expect to hire were ones who had done this stuff for BT in the past). We could either opt to be employed by an umbrella company which existed to handle the tax and and national insurance etc, or set up one’s own limited company and be nominally employed by it. This is known as IR35. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IR35 People do both of these things, and the financial advantages of doing so were attractive for a long time (they are less so now, but still worth considering).

In the end the project was cancelled and nobody was hired.