French PM shrugs off labour protests, truckers call strike

PARIS: French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (pictured) has shrugged off nationwide protests against planned reforms to France’s strict labour regulations, saying on Wednesday he was “listening” but would nonetheless press ahead with the bill.
About 220,000 people on Tuesday joined the first mass protest called by the Communist Party-rooted CGT trade union against the reforms, a smaller number than in demonstrations last year.
However, in a sign that protests may yet gain momentum, truck drivers belonging to the CGT and Force Ouvriere, France’s second and third biggest unions respectively, said they would launch a rolling strike on September 25. Truckers have before brought large parts of France to a halt.
The government plans to adopt the decrees on September 22. “I am listening and I am paying attention. But let me state that the French, when they vote, also have a right to be treated with respect,” Philippe told France 2 television. “And the reform that we are putting in place was announced by the president at the time of his election.”
Labour unions have thwarted previous attempts by governments on the right and left to weaken France’s labour code. Macron’s administration spent weeks negotiating the proposals with union bosses over the summer.
The measures include a cap on payouts for dismissals judged unfair and greater freedom for companies to hire and fire. The reform makes no direct reference to the 35-hour week, a totem of the labour code, though it hands firms more flexibility to set pay and working conditions.
The labour measures are seen in Berlin and other European capitals as a test of Macron’s mettle to enact further reforms
— including to the employment insurance and pension systems — needed to help rein in France’s fiscal deficit. — Reuters

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