Long-running dispute between French producers and crew unions over pay and conditions blows-up.

France’s independent producers have announced a three-week boycott of the country’s National Cinema Centre (CNC) in protest at government plans to introduce a new collective labour agreement for crew which they say will bankrupt the industry.

Producer unions the AFPF, SPI, APC and UPF announced on Wednesday that they had “unanimously and jointly decided to stop participating in all professional committees or commissions” in response to government plans to impose the disputed accord on the whole industry at the beginning of July.

The producer bodies are not at odds with the CNC but the move to withdraw from “professional commissions and committees” is essentially a boycott of the organisation’s activities.

“In a way we’re penalizing ourselves by stopping the work of the commissions but it’s the sole option left for us,”  SPI chief Juliette Prissard told Screen on Thursday.

She added that the producer groups had also launched a petition  calling on the support of the entire industry.

The film funding body’s selection commissions and policy committees are composed of professionals from across the French cinema industry — the absence of the producers threatens to bring many of the CNC’s activities to a grinding halt.

The collective labour agreement – known in French as the Convention Collective du Cinéma — was originally agreed by technicians unions and producer body API, which represents French majors Gaumont, UGC, Pathé and MK2, in January 2012.

None of the bodies representing France’s independent producers signed up for the deal, deeming its minimum pay rates too high, especially for low-budget productions.

Some 14 months on, France’s socialist government is pushing plans to extend the accord’s reach to the whole of the French film industry and the country’s independent producers are up in arms. 

“The independent producers organisations resent the government’s persistent refusal to listen to them. We account for 95% of the films made in France and cannot accept being treated with such inconsistency and disdain,” the AFPF, SPI, APC and UPF said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

Feelings have been running high among France’s independent producers since mid-March when their guilds received a joint letter from Labour Minister Michel Sapin and Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti re-affirming they intended to expand the remit of the accord to the whole industry as of July.

The independent producer groups say the new pay and conditions are economically unviable, especially for low-budget pictures, and will result in the production of some 70 less films a year in France and also encourage productions to shoot abroad.

In an editorial in Le Monde in January, Marius and Jeannette and The Snows of Kilimanjaro director and producer Robert Guédiguian wrote: “With this collective agreement, my first seven films would never have seen the light of day and as a consequence the 10 following films wouldn’t have either.”

The technicians unions counter, meanwhile, that the accord is a landmark deal and that producers have been taking a disproportionately high cut of film budgets for too long.

“The commitment of the Ministries of Culture and Labour is an historic step for our professions, deprived for so many years of a collective agreement,” technicians union the CGT said in a statement on Wednesday.

The independent producer boycott will run until April 11 when a Labour Ministry commission is due to examine the collective deal in more depth.