French labour reforms: PM ready to make concessions

The French government sent a signal on Thursday that it had heard the cries of protest against its divisive labour reforms.

French labour reforms: PM ready to make concessions

In a bid to quell rising anger against labour reforms the French government appears ready to make at least some concessions.

Just a day after up to 500,000 students, high school pupils and workers, marched through the streets of French towns, the country’s Socialist government showed signs it was ready to cave in on some elements of the reform.

In a move aimed at appeasing the country’s youth, Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri confirmed earlier reports that they are considering dropping the measure that would have extended the number of hours companies could ask young apprentices to work for.

Currently apprentices can be asked to work up to eight hours a day or 35 hours a week, but under the government’s plan, those working hours would have been stretched to ten a day and 40 a week.

But El Khomri confirmed that a move to ditch this unpopular measure was “on the table”.

Another measure the government were looking into to pacify trade unions was a surtax on temporary contracts, called CDDs, to encourage companies to employ new recruits on permanent contracts, known as CDIs.

In France, the vast majority of recruits are hired on CDD contracts, because they are cheaper, and companies are wary about handing out CDIs because staff on permanent contracts are harder to let go.

But it leaves many workers in France moving from one CDD to another with little job security. Without a CDI, it is also much harder to get a loan, rent a flat or buy a house.

SEE ALSO: France, the country of eternal deadlock resists reforms 

El Khomri said the proposal to make employers pay a tax on CDD contracts will be put to trade unions before March 24th, the date when the bill will go before the cabinet.

French PM Manuel Valls said on Thursday he would meet with the various youth organizations that led Wednesday’s protests.

Valls will meet with the student and school unions “as quickly as possible to continue talks”, said the country’s education minister Najat Vallaud Belkacem.

President François Hollande and his government see the package of reforms as the last chance to cut unemployment. They hope the measures, which will make it easier for firms to hire and fire people, will create jobs.

Supporters of the reforms believe they are essential to reviving a stagnant economy and creating jobs, and El Khomri has argued that much of the opposition to her law stems from misinformation and false rumours.

However trade unions and student groups oppose the reform because they believe it will undermine job security and make it too easy for workers to be laid off by firms.

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French trade union chief slams UK and US over lack of workers’ rights

France does not want to treat its workers like the UK and US, with zero hours contracts and no protection for the unemployed, Philippe Martinez, the head of the hardline CGT, France's biggest trade union, has said.

French trade union chief slams UK and US over lack of workers' rights
Photo: AFP
Last year Martinez and his leftist union fought an unsuccessful battle with President Emmanuel Macron over a raft of reforms aimed at freeing up France's rigid jobs market.
Those controversial reforms cut into the power of France's trade unions and made it easier for firms to lay off staff.
Martinez believes Macron is influenced by the “Anglo-Saxon” model but he does not want to see the same situation in France. 

“Anglo-Saxon countries like the UK and US are Macron's model…his inspiration,” Martinez told a gathering of journalists from the Anglo American Press Association including The Local. 

“I saw an excellent Ken Loach film recently, 'I, Daniel Blake'. And if you think that is an example of a modern society…well,” he shrugged. 
“We don't want to have zero-hours contracts and no rights for the unemployed,” he said.


French labour reforms: What's actually going to change for workers in France

Photo: AFP

Controversial zero-hour contracts stipulate that the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours while the worker is not obliged to accept any work offered.
“Macron is trying to conduct politics away from the unions,” Martinez said. “Political parties have never been as distant from the world of workers as they are now.”

Martinez also had a dig at China, saying: “We don't want to be like China where children are working in factories”. 
He went on to question why Macron hadn't brought up this, and other human rights' issues, on his recent trip there, instead of just “giving them a horse.”
The formidable union leader has been at the helm of the far-left (once Communist) CGT since 2015. 
And since then he has done his best to act as the thorn in the side of the French presidency. 
However, in 2017 the once hugely powerful CGT failed to stop the reform of France's enshrined labour code, as President Emmanuel Macron swept to power and started carrying out the dramatic changes to workers' rights that he had promised.
These included giving small companies in particular more freedom to negotiate working conditions with their employees, rather than being bound by industry-wide collective agreements negotiated by trade unions. 
In 2016 when socialist president Francois Hollande was attempting to reform France's labour code, changes were ditched due to pressure from the unions as demonstrations caused disruption across the country.