French record industry leaders and employees' representatives met today to discuss employment conditions for the first time.

French record industry leaders and employees' representatives met today to discuss employment conditions for the first time.

The talks, held at the offices of labels body SNEP, involved SNEP GM Hervé Rony, independent labels' body GM Jérome Roger, and trade union representatives from the five major labels.

The union had requested the talks in light of recent announcements from the majors involving job losses in France.

According to Jacques Lefrançois, who represents members of the CFDT union at EMI France, the company plans to shed 70 of its 340 employees, in keeping with group's global downsizing. At Warner Music France, 56 salaried jobs could go out of 181, according to Jean-Luc Lefèvre, who represents CFDT members at Warner.

In this sensitive context, the talks "went well," says Lefrançois. "They were cordial," he conceded.

Lefèvre's optimism was more reserved: "I got the impression they're starting to listen to us," he says. I'm reasonably optimistic, but when you start from zero [in terms of dialog], you can't go any lower."

For his part, Rony, who applauded the birth of "social negotiations" in the French music industry, explained that such dialog had not existed before simply because "the industry didn't have any serious problems before."

The meeting resulted in a new initiative - the creation of a commission comprised equally of SNEP, UPFI and union representatives to discuss employment issues. Pending approval by the SNEP's official council, the commission's first meeting is scheduled for May 14.

Observers say that one of the issues the commission is likely to tackle is whether trimming down staff is the only solution to the ongoing crisis.

Unions also want to raise the issue of reducing artist rosters. "Artists need to be less demanding" in terms of expenditure, says Lefèvre. "The industry has suffered a great deal because of excessive glitz. Every one artist you see too much hides another 10 who can't sell enough. We need to get back to more viable economic models."

The SNEP is expected to announce next week a 30% drop in music shipments in 2004's first quarter.