The French government's attempts to overhaul the labour laws and make them less rigid are showing just how difficult it is to bring about any kind of meaningful reform in France.
The main aim of the government’s reforms is to soften the laws to give bosses, especially those in charge of small and medium-sized firms, more leeway in being able to fire people when times are hard.
This, the government claims, will help boost recruitment and cut record unemployment, which in turn would boost President François Hollande's ever-so-slim chances of being re-elected next year.
But the reforms have thoroughly cheesed off student groups, high schools pupils and many on the left including hardline unions like Force Ouvrier and the CGT. They say the bill panders to business at the expense of the livelihoods of ordinary workers.
But ironically the reforms have left those bosses who in theory stood to benefit equally irate.
After attempting to appease the tens of thousands of angry protesters who have regularly pounded the streets,the government reacted by watering down the reforms.
But in a bid to please one side, the government infuriated employers groups, who are now threatening all out war.
Although it’s unlikely we’ll see French businessmen and women in suits lining up in the streets throwing their laptops at lines of CRS riot police, they are threatening to hurt authorities in other ways.
(French PM Manuel Valls with Medef chief Pierre Gattaz. Photo: AFP)
The head of France’s biggest employers group Medef, Pierre Gattaz (on the right above) blew his lid on Tuesday, threatening to pull out of negotiations over separate reforms to unemployment benefits, if the reforms were not altered in their favour.
Gattaz’s outburst included the words “nonsense”, “delirium” and he talked of a “scribbled policy” as he blasted the government’s reform that only a few weeks ago he had supported.
“I solemnly call for this text to be corrected quickly,” said Gattaz. “I demand the government change the bill to recapture the initial ambition to create jobs in our country,” he said, before denouncing a bill which will do nothing and could even be “counterproductive”.
He and his members were angry that the government watered down reforms including scrapping a plan to limit pay-outs to sacked workers, something bosses had long demanded.
And they lamented the significant change from the original text that meant small and medium-sized companies would not be able to unilaterally introduce flexible work practices into their working week.
(Demonstrators walk past a cardboard cut-out depicting the Nazi eagle with the MEDEF (French employers' association) logo as people take to the streets of Lille.)
But what has angered company bosses more than anything is a plan by the government to impose a higher tax on temporary CDD contracts, in the hope firms will be persuaded to hand out permanent contracts.
“The first version of the law was going in the right direction,” he said, but the latest version has “provoked an immense disappointment and worry” among bosses.
“Today we are at breaking point,” said Gattaz.
“The bill simply does not give the companies the necessary tools to develop and to create jobs. There is a real distrust towards entrepreneurs in this text,” he added.
Another employers group the CGPME has already threatened to kick up a stink if the bill is passed as it is now.
So Hollande finds himself stuck in the middle of two factions that readily detest each other, as he battles desperately to cut unemployment but somehow keep his dwindling support among the left.
Instead of getting into bed with either side, it appears he thinks the best solution is to keep jumping from one bed to another in a bid to keep both sides satisfied.
But unfortunately for him, he’s left both sides frustrated and even more desperate to get what they want.