French parliament debates hotly contested labour reform
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French lawmakers on Tuesday begin examining the government’s hugely divisive plans to reform France’s labour market, which have triggered two months of street protests and led to clashes with riot police.
With 12 months to go until the presidential election, the bill – dubbed “El Khomri Law” after Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri – is likely to be the last major legislation to be introduced by the unpopular administration of Socialist President François Hollande.
It also has the unenviable record of being the reform that has brought the most Socialist supporters onto the streets during Hollande's difficult time in office.
On Tuesday, unions and student organisations are expected to hold another demonstration at the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament that will be the first to examine the text.
The government has already watered down the bill in the face of the protests, but unions still consider it "unacceptable" and want it withdrawn.
Since March 9, hundreds of thousands of protesters in cities around France have denounced what they see as a pro-business reform that will erode the cherished rights of French workers on full-time contracts.
The government has billed the reform as an attempt to tackle the chronic unemployment that has plagued Hollande's time in office.
Opposition to the bill also inspired the "Nuit Debout", or "Up All Night" movement, which has grown to encompass a range of causes.
Police and the government believe troublemakers have mingled with the protesters to foment clashes with riot police. Demonstrators on the other hand accuse the police of heavy-handedness which they claim is fuelling the violence.
Participation reached its peak on March 31 with nearly 400,000 people on the streets. In demonstrations on Thursday, those numbers had fallen to 170,000.
The reform was also the central theme of the traditional May 1 workers' march in Paris, which descended into clashes between masked protesters and police.
Christophe Sirugue, the Socialist lawmaker who is presenting the bill to parliament after it was reviewed in committee, said last week that several points still needed "clarification" but that he expected the bill to pass.
Left up in arms
Among the key remaining points in the bill are measures to make it easier to lay off workers in lean times. Trade unions have slammed provisions that would allow employers to shed workers if their company is doing badly in France, even if its operations abroad are successful.
A group of Socialist lawmakers opposed to the bill complained Monday that the proposed reform fell short of their expectations.
"This bill is not useful for France or for the common good. It is not in line with the reforms that one expects from a government of the left," they said in a statement.
MPs from the right-wing opposition, who initially saluted the bill, say they may no longer support a watered-down version.
If it fails to secure a majority, the government could use a constitutional mechanism to force through the reform by decree without a vote, providing opponents do not force a no-confidence vote.
The government used the tactic last year to ram through another controversial economic reform governing trading hours and the deregulation of some sectors.
However, using such a mechanism carries the risk of further alienating left-wing voters. Opinion polls show a majority of this group have a negative opinion of Hollande's time in office, which does not bode well for the president as he considers whether to stand for re-election next year.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)