French government retreats on sick leave

Prime minister François Fillon announced on Tuesday that plans to increase unpaid sick leave for private sector workers would be scrapped.

French government retreats on sick leave

Legislators voted last week to increase from three to four the number of days that an employee in the private sector can be sick and off work without getting paid.

At the same time, public sector workers would go just one day without getting paid.

The combined measures would have saved around €440 million ($593 million) at a time when France is looking to make large cuts in public spending to bring down its level of debt.

“The majority of parliamentarians just don’t want it,” said Pierre Méhaignerie, president of the social affairs committee in the country’s National Assembly.

He said that members of parliament had heard “very strong reactions” in their constituencies from voters. There was a “feeling of injustice: why one day for some and four for others?”

On Monday a group of MPs from the governing UMP party had written to the health minister to call for the fourth day of unpaid leave to be scrapped.

In their letter they said the decision had been taken “without any consultation” and that it would “weigh heavily on private sector employees,” particularly those working in small and medium-sized businesses.

In cancelling the move, the prime minister told parliamentarians he wanted them to find the €200 million saving the extra day would have created from elsewhere.

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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.