French government faces no-confidence vote and protests

The French government will face opposition both inside and outside parliament on Thursday as the anger over its labour reforms bill and how the reforms were forced through parliament continues to grow.

French government faces no-confidence vote and protests
Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri and Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Photo: AFP

France's already unpopular Socialist government faces a no-confidence vote on Thursday after it bypassed parliament and forced through a labour reform bill that has led to two months of demonstrations.

The government said on Tuesday it would resort to the controversial move in the face of fierce opposition from within President Francois Hollande's own party that was set to lead to the bill being defeated in parliament.

Opponents need 288 votes to bring down the government, which is considered an unlikely prospect because left-wing rebels and extreme-right lawmakers have said they will refuse to join forces with parties on the right.

Its critics say the bill is heavily weighted in favour of employers, but a defiant Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the reform must go ahead “because the country must move forward and because salary negotiations and workers' rights must progress.”

Unions have called for more demonstrations on Thursday to coincide with the vote of no confidence. Riot police will be out in force after recent protests descended into violence.

The government argues the reform will give companies more flexibility to fight endemic unemployment, which stands at more than 10 percent joblessness has been the defining issue of Hollande's four years in power.

'France in impasse'
But while the right believes the reform fails to go far enough, unions and student groups say it will only serve to erode job security.
The right, which has a minority in the National Assembly, or lower house, says Hollande has led the country into an “impasse”.
Left-wing critics failed by just two votes to bring their own vote of no confidence.
Valls remains confident and said he had “no fear” that the government would be brought down.
The standoff over the labour reform is just the latest headache for Hollande since he was forced to abandon his attempts at changing the constitution in the wake of the November 13 terror attacks on Paris.
In a sign of the government's nervousness on the labour reform issue, it has made a significant U-turn on one of the most controversial measures.
Companies which want to lay off staff will not be able to solely use losses in France to justify such a move.
Unions fear that companies with profitable international operations will “cook the books” to make it look as if a loss is being made in their French units in order to make redundancies.
All of this comes less than a year from the 2017 presidential election.
Hollande, facing some of the lowest popularity scores of any left-wing French president, has said he will decide by the end of the year whether to stand for re-election.

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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.