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French PM Valls bypasses parliament to force through labour reforms

© Thomas Samson, AFP | French Prime Minister Manuel Valls speaks at the French National Assembly during a debate on the government's planned labour law reforms on July 5, 2016 in Paris.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-09-15

France's government has used a special measure to force through a divisive labour bill in the lower house of Parliament without a vote - for a second time.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls invoked a special constitutional article to approve the controversial bill Tuesday, prompting lawmakers to storm out of the National Assembly in anger.

This is the second time he has bypassed the legislature on this issue amid stiff opposition from members of his own party.

The Socialist prime minister argued that the reforms are needed to tackle France’s stubbornly high unemployment, which stood at 10.2 percent in the first quarter. Several members of parliament loudly booed and whistled as Valls announced that he would enact Article 49.3 of the constitution, which allows a government to pass laws without a parliamentary vote.

FRANCE 24’s Marc Perelman explained that Article 49.3 is referred to as “the ‘nuclear weapon’ of French politics” and that its use demonstrated that there was clearly no compromise to be found in the Socialist Party on this issue.

Political battle of wills

Opponents, including some members of the Socialist Party, say the reforms will threaten hard-won worker rights because it will simply make it easier for companies to lay- off workers and extend working hours.

FRANCE 24's Perelman said that some within the party think, “Valls is really going too far to the right and that this really will be a major blow against the French welfare state as we know it.”

The legislation has become a key issue for the ruling Socialist Party, with President Francois Hollande saying in June that his government will "go all the way" to enact the reforms.

France's ‘bloated’ labour code?

Hollande, the least popular French president in recent times, has vowed not to stand for a second term in 2017 if he fails to reduce unemployment.

But less than a year away from the presidential election, the decision to force through the contested reform without parliamentary support is a political gamble for the unpopular Hollande and a Socialist government already the focus of regular street protests.

Thousands on the march

The bill has prompted sharp divisions in the governing party and sparked large-scale protests across the country.

Thousands marched through Paris and other cities on Tuesday, alongside the obligatory heavy police presence, in what labour unions say will be the last of a dozen such demonstrations before a summer hiatus.

Turnout estimates varied, but the numbers were in any case lower than at previous rallies.

An opinion poll in April found that 58 percent of the French public remain opposed to the Socialist government's labour reforms.

French businesses who favour labour reforms

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2016-07-05

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