Why France is not working

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By Catherine Hardy  with Reuters, APTN
Why France is not working
  • Two strikes called
  • Rallies and protests held in towns and cities
  • Government plans to reform the “code du travail”
  • Further strikes planned for 31st March

It has been a day of strikes, rallies and demonstrations across France.

Using this law to lower unemployment means we all become disposable employees, like Kleenex

Unions angered by plans for far-reaching employment reforms called their members out on strike, describing the stoppage as a “warm-up”.

National rail operator SNCF said one in three of its workers took part in the industrial action.

It was a joint call to action by four unions – the first since 2013.

Exact numbers are not available. However, the organisers say tens of thousands came out onto the streets.


Thousands of young people took part in a rally in the morning in the French capital.

They were joined by members of the CGT union as they marched through the streets.


Several thousand people marched in the southern city of Marseille.

Much of the anger is targeted at Employment Minister Myriam El Khomri.


In tweets

What is the issue in France about employment reform?

France’s traditionally powerful unions are 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.

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 Hollande is said to be desperate to reduce unemployment, which currently stands at an 18-year-high of 10.6 percent.

The government and business leaders say the reforms will encourage companies to take on permanent contracts rather than temporary ones, a move which would benefit younger workers particularly.

However, unions and some on the left of the Socialist Party see this as a threat to job security.

Economic growth has remained below 1.5 percent, the level considered necessary to bring down unemployment.

I imagine there is a huge outcry about this in France?

That’s right.

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 French 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

“We want the draft law withdrawn so we can start afresh with a law that protects employees” – Philippe Martinez of the CGT union does not mince his words.

“What the left-wing government is doing is terrible. Sarkozy dreamed of this reform, now Hollande is doing it. it is dreadful” – Air France employee Christophe Osnault criticises the Socialist government.

“Using this law to lower unemployment means we all become disposable employees, like Kleenex” – Caroline Saint-Hilaire, Deputy Mayor of Morsang-sur-Orge.

“We don’t want any of this, whether it makes it easier to sack someone or extend our working hours. It means more youth unemployment. That is why they are all out on the streets today” – student demonstrator, Paris.