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High relative wages and high work intensity: The French food processing model in international perspective


  • Eve Caroli

    () (PSE - Paris School of Economics, EconomiX - UPN - Université Paris Nanterre - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, PJSE - Paris-Jourdan Sciences Economiques - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique - ENPC - École des Ponts ParisTech - EHESS - École des hautes études en sciences sociales - ENS Paris - École normale supérieure - Paris)

  • Jérôme Gautié

    () (CES - Centre d'économie de la Sorbonne - UP1 - Université Panthéon-Sorbonne - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)

  • Annie Lamanthe

    () (LEST - Laboratoire d'économie et de sociologie du travail - AMU - Aix Marseille Université - CNRS - Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, CEREQ - Centre d'études et de recherches sur les qualifications - ministère de l'Emploi, cohésion sociale et logement - M.E.N.E.S.R. - Ministère de l'Education nationale, de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la Recherche, Université de la Méditerranée - Aix-Marseille 2)


This paper investigates wages and working conditions of operators in the French food manufacturing sector. In many countries (especially the USA and the UK) the food processing sector employs by a very large fraction of low-paid workers. In France, as evidenced by our case studies in confectionery and meat processing, the model at play is quite different. It is rather characterised by high relative wages, high work intensity, and bad working conditions. This is essentially due to the fact that, in order to cope with increasing competitive pressures - due to the growing market power of retailers, the greater requirements in terms of health and security, as well as to changing consumer habits - French firms have been less able to compress compensation, in contrast with other countries, notably Germany and the United Kingdom. Indeed, the French regulatory framework reduces the margin for adopting "social dumping" strategies. As a consequence, French firms have reacted by increasing productivity by adopting "lean production" and new production processes in which physical burden is lower but mental strain is higher. As a consequence, even if from a foreign eye employment conditions of food processing operators may appear as rather good in France, dissatisfaction is high among workers.

Suggested Citation

  • Eve Caroli & Jérôme Gautié & Annie Lamanthe, 2009. "High relative wages and high work intensity: The French food processing model in international perspective," PSE Working Papers halshs-00567675, HAL.
  • Handle: RePEc:hal:psewpa:halshs-00567675
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