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Thousands gather to protest against French labour reform

Miguel Medina, AFP | Protesters march demanding the withdrawal of the labour law during a demonstration against the French government's proposed labour law reforms in Paris on April 9.

Thousands gathered on Saturday for a march starting at Paris's Place de la République as student groups and hardline labour unions vowed to step up their campaign against the government’s controversial labour reform bill.

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Unions and youth organisations have issued a joint statement saying that they remained "determined" to confront the "government’s stubborness to maintain its [labour reform] project". They also called for another day of strikes and protests on April 28.

The reforms, which would put almost all aspects of the country's strictly codified labour relations up for negotiation between employers and unions, have infuriated the unions, who say they unduly threaten job security.

Protesters are set to gather in Place de la République in central Paris at 2pm local time before marching to Place de la Nation.

According to unions, around 1.2 million people turned out to protest across the country on March 31, with 160,000 people protesting in Paris. Police gave lower figures, saying 390,000 people joined the protests across France. Demonstrators marched under banners reading, "We want better" and "A giant leap forward to the 19th century".

Thousands of students turned out again on April 5 to protest against the measures.

The Socialist government is desperate to push through reforms to France's controversial labour laws, billed as a last-gasp attempt to boost the flailing economy before next year's presidential election.

But unions and students are angry over plans to make it easier for struggling companies to fire workers, even though the reforms have already been diluted once in a bid to placate employers.

A recent opinion poll found that 58 percent of the French public still opposed the measures.

Unemployment still rising

Already the least popular president in France's modern history, François Hollande is seeing his numbers continue to fall, with another poll on Wednesday showing he would not even make it to a second-round run-off in a presidential election.

Hollande, 61, has vowed not to run again if he cannot cut the country's stubbornly high unemployment figures – long hovering at around 10 percent – and he hoped the labour reforms would encourage firms to hire more staff.

But pressure from the street and parliament's back benches caused the government to water down the proposals so that they apply only to large firms.

Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri said this week that she understood why "such a profoundly reformist text has raised questions and requires debate", adding: "It is not a blank cheque for companies."

Bosses are also unhappy, particularly over the removal of a cap on compensation paid for unfair dismissal, and the scrapping of plans that would have allowed small- and medium-sized companies to unilaterally introduce flexible working hours.

Parliament is set to vote on the reforms in late April or early May.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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