'Social coup d'Etat': crowds rally against French labour reform

In France, tens of thousands of people rallied against the government's labour reform on Tuesday, with some demonstrations turning violent.

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'Social coup d'Etat': crowds rally against French labour reform

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Tuesday was an explosive day for the French government.

In central Paris, demonstrators clashed with police on the margins of a protest against a planned labour reform.

Windows were smashed, bottles hurled. Riot police hit back with water cannon, tear gas, and their batons.

Tens of thousands of people rallied around place de la Bastille — the spot where the French Revolution started — and across other cities nationwide to protest against the reform, which would make it easier for companies to hire and fire employees while giving them more flexibility to set working conditions.

The hardline CGT trade union branded the plans a “social coup d’Etat.”

“No reform that’s destroyed labour rules in any country has ever slashed unemployment rates,” said the union’s head Philippe Martinez.

“It generates precariousness, undeclared work, but it doesn’t solve the issue of stable employment, a job on which people can build their lives.”

Fast-track procedure

Unemployment in France has been stuck above 9 percent for nearly a decade, but previous attempts to reform the labour code have been watered down in the face of unions’ opposition and street protests.

This time could however be different for Macron, as two other unions, including the largest, the CFDT, declined to join the protests.

After weeks of negotiations, last month the government unveiled measures including a cap on payouts for unfair dismissals and fewer hurdles for multinationals to lay off staff at struggling French operations.

The reform makes no direct reference to the 35-hour week, a totem of the labour code, but it hands firms more flexibility to set pay and working hours.

The government plans is fast-tracking the measures via executive orders and aims to adopt them on Sept. 22.