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France scales back labour reform plans in face of protests

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France scales back labour reform plans in face of protests



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The French government has backtracked on some key elements of its labour reform bill, unveiling a revised package following protests against the measures.

The concessions were announced after ministers met trade union leaders.

A planned cap on severance pay for dismissed workers will not be imposed, merely recommended in guidelines. Many companies argued the measure would have helped reduce the uncertainty of going through the industrial tribunal system.

Restrictions on companies over redundancies are included in the new text. Courts will have more leeway than originally planned to assess the health of a firm trying to lay off workers.

After the meeting, the prime minister was keen to reassure employees over job security.

“It seems important to me that we move forward. Obviously some people are calling for this bill to be withdrawn, to be abandoned, that’s not possible. The country is expecting answers to fundamental questions which have long been asked,” Manuel Valls said.

Two employers’ organisations, Medef and the CGPME representing small and medium-sized companies, said they were disappointed by the changes. The Medef leader Pierre Gattaz said the cap on severance pay was an important incentive for companies, particularly small ones, to hire workers and boost employment.

The government and business leaders said the reforms would have encouraged companies to hire workers on permanent rather than temporary contracts, bringing down an unemployment rate of over 10 percent.

Some unions welcomed the concessions; but three – the CGT, FO and the student body Unef – still want the bill scrapped.

Jean-Claude Mailly, leader of the FO (Force Ouvrière) union, said he feared an erosion of union power to the detriment of employees.

“Given what happened when collective bargaining was decentralised in other countries like Germany, countries like Spain, countries like Portugal, a few years down the line, I don’t want us, or younger generations, to lose the protection of workplace agreements in our country,” he told reporters.

The three unions have called for more protests later this month.

But opposition could be fragmenting. The CFTC union said it was pleased its concerns over redundancy conditions had been taken into account, while one students’ union – the Fage – said it would not be taking part in more planned protests.

At a meeting on Monday night many ruling socialist MPs, who previously had reservations over the labour reform bill, also seemed to have been won over by the concessions.


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