October 24, 2016

Unions reject French government amendments to labour law reform

French CGT trade union head Philippe Martinez leaves after a meeting about French labour law reforms at the Hotel Matignon in Paris

French government efforts to end a sometimes violent showdown with trade unions over plans to loosen labour laws were dealt a blow on Thursday when unions rejected new amendments.

President Francois Hollande wants to make it easier for firms to hire and fire staff in an effort to bring down double-digit unemployment before next year’s presidential election, but unions say the reforms badly erode workers’ rights.

One of the most contentious articles focuses on handing more power to individual companies to negotiate pay and working conditions. At the moment, those discussions take place at the sector level, where unions have more clout.

On Wednesday the government offered unions more of a say in determining workers’ terms at industry level than currently set out in the bill, while still shifting the emphasis towards companies.

Philippe Martinez, leader of the hardline CGT union that has spearheaded a dozen street protests in Paris, said the amendments fell short of its demands.

“The government remains deaf to our proposals,” the CGT and six other unions said in a joint statement on Thursday.

In comments published by Le Parisien newspaper, Martinez said: “This will play out in the streets.” Turnout in recent protests has however fallen sharply.

The planned reforms have driven a wedge between the ruling Socialist Party’s traditional left and more reform-minded allies of Hollande. The bill was forced though the lower house of parliament by decree, through a constitutional clause known as 49:3, in the face of a rebellion.

Hollande said late on Wednesday he would do the same again when the legislation returns to the National Assembly for a final reading on July 5, if dissident Socialist lawmakers maintained their opposition.

“Let there be no doubt on this. The law will be voted on and signed off on time. I would like to see majority backing for it. Short of that, it will be a case of recourse again to article 49:3,” he told Les Echos newspaper.

Forensic police were called in on Wednesday to investigate an overnight fire that damaged the Bordeaux offices of the moderate CFDT union, which backs the reform.

“There’s no doubt the fire was deliberate,” a CFDT spokesman said.

Unions opposing the bill have scheduled a protest for July 5.

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