France Urges Supermarkets to Pay €1,000 Coronavirus Bonus as Staff Abandon Posts

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The French government has pleaded with staff in the food supply chain to keep turning up for work amid rising absenteeism, and urged supermarkets start paying employees a €1,000 bonus.

While employees from a wide range of businesses have been instructed to work from home and practise social isolation across Europe in recent weeks as governments get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic, certain industries have been exempted from the push. Beyond the emergency services, doctors, and police officers, those in the food supply chain have been designated “key workers”.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron appealed to supermarket employees to keep turning up to work, saying “we need to keep the country running”.

The French government is also attempting to incentivise employees in some key sectors to keep working through a tax-free bonus. French economy minister Bruno Le Maire called on “vital sectors like the food-processing industry and large-scale distribution” to give their staff a €1,000 bonus for continuing to work, noting the government would not levy a tax on this payment.

Absenteeism in the French food industry rose from five per cent to eight in the one week since the government launched its containment plan, at a time where demand is surging. Le Maire said that a functioning health care system required a good supply of food to the nation.

The bonus payments would be made through a profit-sharing mechanism established in 2019 by the French government during the height of the Yellow Vest protests, to encourage would-be strikers to keep going to work. The payments were known then as the “Macron bonus” and are available to companies which established a co-operative profit-sharing incentive plan, reports Le Parisien.

Several large supermarket chains announced they would be paying the bonus on Monday, including Auchan, Carrefour, and Intermarché. Le Express reports a statement from Auchan which said “all store employees, drivers, home delivery drivers, and e-commerce staff” would get the €1,000 bonus.

The problem with the system, Le Parisien reports, is that small and medium businesses found the bureaucracy of establishing the bonuses too difficult, meaning the benefits of the system will predominantly be the employees of larger businesses.

A spokesman for the economy ministry said that in the case of the coronavirus bonus the government is now encouraging, this was a deliberate move, as the government was specifically targeting those large food companies and supermarkets, calling them “essential sectors… so we encourage them to pay the bonus of €1,000, tax-exempt.”

“We must do better for those people who we absolutely need,” the spokesman added.

Despite the call from the government, whether to pay the bonus is at the discretion of the employer, and it would be paid entirely out of company funds.

Unions have criticised the payments, claiming cash is encouraging employees to work in unsafe conditions where “profit comes before life” is not acceptable, and “deploring” the death of a 45-year-old store security guard and union official who contracted coronavirus. The CGT union called for “protective measures” to be put in place for employees, and called on staff to walk away if they feared for their health.

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