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Online petition against French labour reform hits million-signature record

© Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP | French Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri arrives for a meeting with Prime Minister Manuel Valls in Paris on February 18, 2016

Text by Avi DAVIS

Latest update : 2016-03-05

An online petition launched against a bill to overhaul France’s labour laws hit the one million signature mark on Friday, a record in the country.

The popular petition opposes reforms aimed at making France’s labour market more flexible, allowing companies to lay off workers more easily.

The reform package has been commonly referred to as the El Khomri law in France, after Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri who has championed the text.

Available on change.org, the petition’s signature count had far outstripped that of other recent popular appeals.

A petition against the European Trade Secrets Directives has garnered around 512,000 signatures, while a petition urging a presidential pardon for Jacqueline Sauvage – a French woman convicted of killing her abusive husband – claimed 436,000 signatures.

In the first four days after its launch, the anti-El Khomri petition had already gathered more than 200,000 signatures, thanks in part to high-profile support from personalities like militant feminist Caroline de Haas.

When asked about the success of the petition, Benjamin des Gachons, the director of change.org in France, asserted that “the question of verifying signatures is at the heart of [our] model”.

‘Broken’ labour rights

The French government says the labour law will make France more competitive, and help tackle record unemployment.

The El Khomri law has angered France’s powerful unions, in part because it would allow companies to reach agreements with their staff over working conditions – including on maximum working hours and overtime pay – without the need to negotiate with the trade groups.

It has also come under sharp criticism for including clauses that would help employers fire workers under simpler conditions, such as falling orders or sales, or operating losses, while capping the total amount of damages claims they may have to pay in case of litigation.

Several major French unions — including the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), the National Union of Students of France (UNEF), Workers' Force (FO),— have warned the El Khomri law would “break the labour code”.

In a rare show of unity, nearly a dozen unions have called for a massive, nationwide strike to take place on March 9.

Some unions are nevertheless calling for “deep” modifications to the El Khomri law, rather than scrapping it altogether.

Rallying around El Khomri

Amid the success of de Haas’s petition and the backlash from unions, some academics have defended the bill.

In an opinion piece in France’s leading newspaper Le Monde, a group of 31 university professors and researchers, including 2014 Nobel Prize laureate Jean Tirole, defended the El Khomri law.

Highlighting figures that show that unemployment in France disproportionally impacts young people and those lacking university degrees, the group said the labour reform would help correct these “unbearable inequalities”.

“The El Khomri law will mean progress for the most fragile. In minimising the uncertainties attached to ending contracts, it will incite businesses to hire more long-term contracts”, the scholars wrote.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls plans to meet with the unions one by one starting Monday, March 7, in an effort to ease opposition to the law.

Date created : 2016-03-05

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