Why the conditions of use of meal vouchers are debated

Display of different payment methods on the door of a restaurant.

In a context of high inflation in the prices of food products, the government made it possible, in August 2022, to purchase food products in supermarkets with meal vouchers. Supposed to be provisional, this provision should be extended in 2024, or even made permanent beyond that. A measure demanded by many users, but criticized by restaurateurs, who see it as a diversion of this financial windfall for the benefit of large stores.

Who is entitled to “restaurant vouchers”? Where to eat? At what price ? The Decoders look into the issue.

Who can benefit from meal vouchers?

The labor code requires the employer to provide its employees with a space “allowing them to eat in good health and safety conditions” and equip this space more than fifty employees, but does not require financial support for meals. In many sectors, however, collective agreements provide for partial financing of employee meals by the employer. This can involve a fixed amount bonus, the provision of a company restaurant (with meal costs covered) or the distribution of meal vouchers.

When the employer chooses the last option, he has the obligation to provide meal vouchers to each employee of the company, regardless of their employment contract (CDI, CDD, temporary, full-time or part-time). The employee, even when working remotely, is entitled to one ticket per meal included in their daily working schedule.

The amount is set by the employer, who finances between 50% and 60% of its value. The rest is paid by the employee. The employer’s contribution can be completely exempt from Social Security contributions if it does not exceed 6.91 euros. If he chooses to exceed this amount, the part which exceeds the ceiling is subject to social security contributions. For the employee, the total amount of the “restaurant ticket” is exempt from tax.

Under what conditions can they be spent?

Born at the end of the 1960s in France, meal vouchers today benefit more than five million employees. They can be used to pay for part or all of a meal in restaurants, delicatessens, caterers, bakeries, food distribution businesses as well as fruit and vegetable retailers. Merchants or restaurateurs are free not to accept meal vouchers in their establishment (the issuing companies charge a commission generally between 3% and 5%).

In all cases, the use of “restaurant vouchers” is regulated: an employee can only spend them on working days (unless he works on Sundays or public holidays) and within the limit of 25 euros per day. . This ceiling, which was previously 19 euros, was raised permanently in October 2022 by a government decree.

Originally, these vouchers were reserved for the purchase of directly consumable products: ready meals, sandwiches, salads, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. Certain foodstuffs requiring preparation were thus excluded. But since the law of August 2022 “carrying out emergency measures for the protection of purchasing power”, an exemption supposed to end on December 31, 2023 extended thea list to all food products, such as flour, pasta, rice, fish, meat, eggs, etc. Alcoholic beverages, confectionery, infant, animal and non-food products remain excluded. However, each store sets its own list of products payable by meal voucher, which can therefore vary from one brand to another.

Why is their use in supermarkets debated?

Less than two months before its expiry, this exemption has returned to the heart of the political debate. While the government did not seem inclined to extend the system, several parliamentarians and many users criticized the return of restrictions on the use of these titles.

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Hadrien Clouet, La France insoumise deputy for Haute-Garonne, denounced “a financial and health scandal”. “We no longer have the right to cook at home and bring our own meals. You will have to pay more to eat! »he castigated on X, believing that users would be “forced to consume processed products, sometimes harmful”. “While inflation on consumer products has reached 21% in two years, I am convinced that this decision is very bad news for the purchasing power of the French and for the balance of our plates”, added the senator from Alpes-Maritimes, Alexandra Borchio Fontimp (Les Républicains). The president of the National Rally group in the embly, Marine Le Pen, denounced a “socially dramatic measure for millions of French people caught in the throat by inflation”.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers “Meal vouchers, a French picrocholine affair”

Faced with this outcry, the government quickly announced that the exceptional measure would be extended to 2024. This extension will have to go through law: the three majority groups have announced the tabling of a text on the subject in the National embly. In the Senate, a bill was tabled by LR senators and will be examined on December 12. On Wednesday, the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, even declared himself “ready for us to open the discussion on the more general use of these tickets to buy food”. This point will be addressed “in the negotiation of reform” of the meal voucher market, supposed to be presented by the end of the year, he declared on Europe 1.

The decision to extend this exemption made restaurateurs howl. The main employers’ union, the Union of Hotel Trades and Industries (UMIH) denounces the transformation of the meal voucher into “Title Caddy” and considers that the social purpose of the meal voucher – “to help employees who do not benefit from a company canteen while stimulating the catering sector” – is misguided.

However, according to figures from the National Commission for Meal Vouchers, at the end of the third quarter of 2023, less than one in two tickets (44%) was spent in a restaurant, compared to 29% in large and medium-sized stores, and 26% in food businesses, including bakeries.

“In 2023, there will be a shortfall of 200 million euros for our restaurateurs”, estimated Thierry Marx, president of the UMIH, who asked to be received by the Prime Minister on Thursday. Between the 4e quarter 2022 and the 3e quarter of 2023, the market share of meal vouchers from large and medium-sized stores increased by 6.6 points, while those of restaurateurs and food outlets fell by 2.5 points and 4.4 points respectively.

Romain Geoffroy

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