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Macron's government fires opening salvo in bid to reform labour market

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Macron's government fires opening salvo in bid to reform labour market
File photo for last year's labour law protests in Paris. Photo: AFP
17:46 CEST+02:00
French President Emmanuel Macron's cabinet on Wednesday approved his ambitious plans to relax the country's rigid labour laws, the main plank of his bid to bring down stubbornly high unemployment.

Macron, a liberal who won the presidency on a promise to get France back to work, wants to move quickly to inject flexibility into the labour market while still enjoying a honeymoon with voters.

On Wednesday, Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud unveiled a bill allowing the government to change the labour code using executive orders, to avoid the reforms becoming bogged down in parliament.

France's labour laws "must help companies to conquer new markets and create new jobs as a result," she told reporters, setting out the measures.

Parliament will get to vote on the use of the executive orders after the government concludes several rounds of talks with trade unions and employers' groups. The bill is currently expected to pass, given Macron's commanding parliamentary majority.

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The centrist leader launched the labour negotiations within days of taking office to try to head off the protests that dogged the previous Socialist government in which he served.

Then president Francois Hollande's attempt to reform the labour market sparked months of sometimes violent demonstrations and sporadic strikes in 2016, during which uncollected rubbish piled up on the streets of Paris.

The final bill was rammed through parliament without a vote, after being significantly watered down.

Macron's reforms -- which he aims to finalise by the end of September -- will go further.

Headed 'in right direction'

He wants to give bosses more power to negotiate conditions directly with workers, circumventing industry-wide deals.

He also wants to cap the severance pay awarded by labour courts in cases of unfair dismissal and fuse the myriad workers' committees within a company into one single body.

The hardline CGT union that led last year's labour protests has come out swinging against the proposals and called for countrywide strikes and protests on September 12.

But in a sign that Macron may face less resistance than his predecessors the Force Ouvriere union, which usually sides with the CGT, told Le Monde daily that the discussions were headed "in the right direction".

The dossier will test Macron's ability to effect the kind of reforms demanded by his eurozone partners, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

From a projected 9.4 percent this year the government aims to cut the unemployment rate to 7 percent by 2022.

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