French government and unions fail to resolve conflict

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.

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

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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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.