France launches major labour code overhaul

Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron’s government unveiled a major overhaul of the labour code on Thursday, a signature reform that will test his ability to force through changes and face down protests.
The 39-year-old centrist sees overhauling France’s highly protective, rigid labour regulations as key to creating jobs.
The measures are aimed in particular at helping small and medium-sized business by curbing the power of unions, limiting unfair dismissal awards and allowing bosses to negotiate more working terms and conditions directly with their employees.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, unveiling the changes at a press conference, called them “ambitious, balanced and fair” and said they would help France “make up for lost years” of high unemployment.
“There are differences. We accept them,” Philippe said, referring to opposition and criticism from trade unions. The moderate CFDT trade union said it was “disappointed” by the proposed changes overall, while the hard-left Force Ouvriere (FO) union also said it disagreed with many of the measures.
But crucially from Macron’s perspective, neither of them said they would recommend their members join planned street protests next month by the Communist-backed CGT, France’s biggest union. The reform is a pivotal part of Macron’s domestic agenda.
He campaigned on a promise to encourage entrepreneurship in France, where the unemployment rate of 9.5 per cent is almost double that of its large European rivals.
In an interview published on the eve of the announcement, Macron said the overhaul had to be “ambitious and efficient enough” to spur job creation. “We are the only major economy in the European Union that has not defeated mass unemployment for more than three decades,” he told Le Point magazine.
He warned last week that the French “hated reforms” and tried to avoid them as long as possible — but his European partners, particularly in Germany, are watching closely to see if he can succeed in implementing them. The changes will be implemented via executive order, allowing Macron to avoid a lengthy parliamentary debate. The overhaul will be adopted by the government next month and must then be ratified by parliament, where the president’s Republic on the Move party has a large majority.
The move is set to bring the first demonstrations against his government, with the CGT union, and the new political party France Unbowed calling for protests on September 12 and 23. — AFP