French government and unions fail to resolve conflict

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French government and unions fail to resolve conflict
Will Philippe Martinez and his CGT union backdown? Photo: AFP

The first talks between French trade unions and the government in months have failed to find a compromise that would have ended the ongoing strikes and street protests.


Bad news for the French public who are growing increasingly fed up with the strikes and protests that have blighted the country in recent weeks.

On Friday the leader of the powerful CGT union, Philippe Martinez, who has been spearheading resistance to the reforms, met with Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri for the first time since protests against the legislation kicked off three months ago.

The stakes were high for the talks, which come just days after the latest protest against the reforms -- named after El Khomri -- descended into violence in Paris, leaving 40 people injured.

Even though hopes of them finding compromise were slim, the talks were confirmed as a failure later on Friday morning.

"There are profound disagreements between the CGT and the government. These disagreements have been confirmed today," said Martinez on leaving the meeting.

Martinez said he saw no reason to call off the street protests planned for June 23rd and June 28th.

The combative union leader said there were major differences around five or six points of the labour reforms, which are essential aimed at freeing up France's rigid labour market, by making it easier for companies to hire and fire people as well as making it easier to change the length of the working week.

France has been hit by months of strikes that have led to long queues for fuel, rubbish piling up on sidewalks, and train and plane delays.

But even before Friday's talks get under way, both sides appeared unyielding.

(Philippe Martinez. AFP)

Martinez demanded that the government suspend debate on the labour law, which is currently before the upper house Senate after the government forced it through the lower house without a vote -- further enraging the union and winning it much needed public support..

Martinez "is asking for the suspension of the parliamentary debate and the withdrawal of the five most important articles of this law, which is obviously unacceptable," El Khomri said.

However she said she was open to listening to the union leader's "proposals" as to how to end the impasse.

President Francois Hollande's Socialist government is trying to push through the labour market reforms in a bid to tackle France's 10 percent unemployment rate.

More protests

However critics see the reforms as skewed towards business interests, and argue that greater flexibility for employers will erode their iron-clad job security.

The government has already watered down the reforms, to the satisfaction of reform-minded unions, while more radical leftist unions have dug their heels in.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has vowed to stand firm on the labour reforms.

"The government will not change a text which is already the outcome of a compromise sealed several months ago with reform-minded unions," Valls told French radio on Wednesday.

He also accused the CGT of having an "ambiguous attitude" to those who carried out violent acts during Tuesday's protest.

Paris police chief Michel Cadot said that despite the presence of some 1,500 paramilitary officers and 1,000 police, some 20 shops, 13 signboards, the facades of eight banks, eight bus stops and a dozen public buildings -- including a children's hospital -- were damaged in the protest.

Police unions contested Cadot's figures of 28 police wounded, saying they had reports that between 100 and 200 officers had been injured.

Hollande has threatened to ban demonstrations, which have come as the country's overstretched security forces are juggling the demands of the Euro football championship and heightened terror fears.


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