French government slashes unemployment benefits

The French government said Monday that jobseekers would see the amount of time they can claim benefits cut by 25 percent from next year as part of a contested reform designed to help fill vacant positions.

French government slashes unemployment benefits
France's Labour Minister gestures during a press conference following a meeting to unveil new unemployment insurance reform. (Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP)

Under the current rules, anyone under the age of 53 can claim a maximum two years of compensation after losing their job, while the over-55s are eligible for three years.

By reducing the time by a quarter from February 2023, Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt said Monday he hoped that 100,000 150,000 people would return to the labour market earlier than expected next year.

“We’re keeping one of the most generous systems in Europe,” he added in a comment designed to reassure workers worried about their rights being eroded.

The new regime was made possible by a law passed by parliament last week that gave the government powers to change the unemployment system by decree, depending on the state of the labour market.

READ MORE: Key points: The French unemployment reforms foreign workers should know about

The idea proposed by President Emmanuel Macron is that benefits would be available for longer during economic downturns and restricted during times of labour shortages.

Despite high inflation and the impact of the war in Ukraine, France’s unemployment rate has fallen steadily to 7.3 percent amid complaints from many employers that they are unable to find people willing to fill vacancies.

The head of the Medef business association, Hubert Mongon, hailed the change as “going in the right direction” in encouraging people back to work.

All of France’s trade unions have opposed the changes, which are part of centrist President Emmanuel Macron’s pro-business agenda designed to reduce the country’s chronic high unemployment and high levels of public spending.

Macron made reaching full employment — which would mean bringing the unemployment rate down to around 5.0 percent — one of the pledges of his successful bid for a second term in presidential elections in May.

The unemployment system changes drew support from the rightwing Republicans opposition party which helped pass the legislation last week, a rare moment of compromise in the divided and hung National Assembly.

Macron has been under pressure to give impetus to his second term, which was severely undermined when his allies failed to win a majority in parliamentary elections in June that saw major gains for the far-right and hard-left.

The previously supportive centre-right Le Point magazine questioned this week if Macron was a “Zombie President” in a front page article.

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‘A good thing’ for footballers to express values, says France’s PM

France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne - speaking in Berlin - said that footballers should be allowed to express their values, amid controversy over FIFA's stance against the 'OneLove' armband on the pitch.

'A good thing' for footballers to express values, says France's PM

“There are rules for what happens on the field but I think it’s a good thing for players to be able to express themselves on the values that we obviously completely share, while respecting the rules of the tournament,” said Borne at a press conference in Berlin on Friday.

Germany’s players made headlines before Wednesday’s shock loss to Japan when the team lined up for their pre-match photo with their hands covering their mouths after FIFA’s threat to sanction players wearing the rainbow-themed armband.

Seven European nations, including Germany, had previously planned for their captains to wear the armband, but backed down over FIFA’s warning.

Following Germany’s action, Wales and the Netherlands have since come out to say they would not mirror the protest.

Borne’s visit to Germany was her first since she was named to her post in May.

Following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the two leaders signed an agreement for “mutual support” on “guaranteeing their energy supplies”.

Concrete measures outlined in the deal include France sending Germany gas supplies as Berlin seeks to make up for gaping holes in deliveries from Russia.

Germany meanwhile would help France “secure its electricity supplies over winter”, according to the document.

France had since 1981 been a net exporter of electricity to its neighbours because of its nuclear plants. But maintenance issues dogging the plants have left France at risk of power cuts in case of an extremely cold winter.

The two leaders also affirmed their countries’ commitment to backing Ukraine “to the end of” its conflict with invaders Russia.