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French unions to strike over Macron’s labour reform plans

France’s communist-backed CGT union has called for strike action ahead of planed labour reformed by newly-elected president Francois Macron.

Philippe Martinez, head of the radical union wants to bring millions of people onto the streets on September 12 and 23. 

He warned his members: ‘All our fears have been confirmed.’ 

French far-left unions have threatened strike action ahead of planned labour reforms by President Emmanuel Macron pictured in the Elysee Palace in Paris with his dog Nemo

The French CGT union, pictured here in a protest in February 2016, want to hold two major demonstrations across the country next month in opposition to President Macron's plans

The French CGT union, pictured here in a protest in February 2016, want to hold two major demonstrations across the country next month in opposition to President Macron’s plans

Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the far left France Unbowed, who finished fourth in the presidential election, described Macron’s ploy as a ‘social welfare coup d’etat’.  

However, French business leaders on Thursday applauded President Emmanuel Macron’s overhaul of the labour code, a signature reform that will test his ability to force through change and face down protests.

The 39-year-old centrist sees overhauling France’s rigid labour regulations as key to tackling the unemployment rate, currently 9.5 per cent in France, roughly twice the level of Britain or Germany.

The head of the employers federation Pierre Gattaz welcomed the reform as ‘an important first step in the building of labour laws which are in step with the daily reality inside our companies’.

The measures unveiled Thursday are aimed in particular at helping small businesses by allowing bosses to negotiate contract terms and conditions directly with their employees without union involvement.

They also cap the sometimes prohibitive costs of firing employees by limiting court awards for unfair dismissals and make it easier for multinationals operating in France to lay off workers.

Presenting the changes, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe called them ‘ambitious, balanced and fair’ and said they would help France ‘make up for lost years’ of mass unemployment.

‘There are differences. We accept them,’ Philippe said at the end of three months of talks with trade unions and business leaders, which ended with the latter group sounding the happiest.

The CPME small business group expressed satisfaction with the plan, while unions gave it a mixed reception.

The moderate CFDT union said it was ‘disappointed’ by some of the proposals, as did the hard-left Force Ouvriere (FO) union.

But crucially from Macron’s perspective, neither said they would recommend their members join planned street protests next month by the Communist-backed CGT, France’s biggest union. 

Macron warned last week that ‘the French hate reforms’ and that what he was proposing was a ‘profound transformation’ to boost the country’s global standing. 

Recent polls showed that only around 40 per cent of French voters are satisfied with his performance in office, with analysts attributing the disaffection to a mix of communication problems and political missteps.

Eager to produce results quickly, Macron has fast-tracked the labour reform via executive orders.

French labour law is enshrined in a thick red book that runs to around 3,000 pages, covering everything from health and safety to contract law, bonuses and pensions.

Macron aims to hugely simplify it, codifying basic employment protections in law but leaving companies, trade unions and employees to negotiate much of the rest, giving them greater flexibility.

The executive orders will be adopted by the government next month.

They must be ratified by parliament afterwards but are nearly certain to pass given the large majority of the president’s centrist Republic on the Move party.

Patrick Thiebart, a labour specialist at the law firm Jeantet, said that the changes ‘allow France to regain real competitiveness’ by giving companies flexibility while retaining an important role for trade unions as negotiating partners. 



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