France has been hit by widespread disruption caused by two separate strikes which have cut transport services and brought protesting workers onto the streets.
Staff at the national rail operator SNCF have walked out along with unions representing students and general workers.
What is the issue in France about employment reform?
France’s traditionally influential unions are also angry about a controversial package of employment law reforms that was due to be formally presented to the French cabinet in Paris today (Wednesday, March 9th).
The date has been pushed back to March 24 to allow the proposals to be “reworked”.
The plans for the root-and-branch reform of the “code du travail” mean almost every aspect of the country’s strictly codified and sacrosanct employment laws will be up for negotiation. The aim is to bring French labour laws in line with those of other countries.
Everything from maximum working hours to holidays and pay on rest breaks could be subject to change.
Two of the biggest employment unions have called for a national day of action today and have been joined by the youth wings of left wing political parties. A union representing high school students, the FIDL, has urged its young members to carry their desks out onto the streets in protest.
A number of unions have also called for a day of strikes and demonstrations across France on March 31st.
However, not all the unions want the proposals scrapped. Some are demanding that they be kept but in a modified form.
Why does the government think French employment law needs reforming?
Insiders say the 130-page draft bill is the French president’s attempt to tackle his country’s stubbornly high jobless rate.
Francois Holland is said to be desperate to reduce unemployment, which currently stands at an 18-year-high of 10.6 percent.
I imagine there is a huge outcry about this in France?
The proposals risk widening already deep divisions in the ranks of the governing Socialists. Political commentators say opposition within the party means the reforms are likely to be watered down. The party is already split over Francois Hollande’s proposal to strip dual nationals of their French citizenship if convicted of terrorism offences.
Employment Minister Myriam El Khomri has not ruled out invoking a rarely-used article in the constitution that allows the government to bypass parliament. She has, however, said she will work with parliament, which suggests some concessions are likely.
Union representatives think the reforms run too much in favour of business operators. They are having a series of bilateral meetings with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in Paris this week, ahead of a general meeting on the 14th March. The discussions so far have been described as “frank and direct”.
Seven unions have called for a further day of strikes and demonstrations on the 31st of March. They want the government to withdraw its proposals.
What they are thinking?
58% of French think this industrial action will be as big as that against initial employment contracts ten years ago
More than 920,000 have signed the “Employment law? – No thanks!” petition on Change.org.
What they are saying?
“With this call to strike, we are sending a warning shot to the government” – fighting talk from Didier Aubert, CFDT
“We want the country to progress through social dialogue while better guaranteeing rights and making companies more attractive” – Employment Minister Myriam El Khomri.
“The debate is going to be fierce because there is a change of philosophy” – El Khomri knows she has a fight on her hands.
“Everything in this bill on layoffs for economic reasons is open for debate and will be debated” – Socialist Party President Jean-Christophe Cambadelis says he cannot vote for the bill in its current form.
“The reforms go in the right direction” – head of the Medef employers federation, Pierre Gattaz praises details in the draft.
What about the rail strike?
The strike has been called by the four main unions representing the country’s rail workers – the CFDT, CGT, Sud and UNSA. It is the first time all four have issued a joint call to strike since June 2013.
Unions have described it as a “warning shot”. They say train services across France are under threat due to insufficient recruitment and want more workers taken on. Operator SNCF has reportedly reduced its workforce by 25,000 through natural wastage since 2003.
They are also demanding pay rises and guarantees over working conditions.
Demonstrations linked to the SNCF stoppage and the wider issue of employment reform are planned for Wednesday in Paris and 100 other towns and cities around France.
The rail strike in 8 points
- Starts 1900 Tuesday evening
- Ends 0800 Thursday morning
- One in three intercity TGV and regional services running
- Only one in three RER B Charles de Gaulle airport connections running
- One in five Eurostar trains cancelled
- Connections between France, Switzerland and Italy affected
- Thalys to Belgium, Netherlands and Germany operating normally
*Paris Metro running as normal
Find out if your journey is affected
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