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French PM to use special powers to bypass parliament on labour reform

Eric Feferberg / AFP | French Prime Minister Manuel Valls wants to pass the controversial employment law by decree.

France's government announced Tuesday that it would empower Prime Minister Manuel Valls to bypass parliament and push through controversial labour reforms by decree despite widespread public demonstrations against the bill.

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The decision follows weeks of sometimes violent protests against the proposed reform, which among other changes seeks to make hiring and firing easier for companies.

“Because the country must move forward ... the cabinet has authorised me to act on behalf of the government,” Valls told lawmakers, to loud boos and heckling from some deputies and applause from others.

Defeat would have delivered another hefty blow to unpopular French President François Hollande, who has said he will only run for re-election next year if he lowers the jobless rate, which has been hovering above 10 percent.

'People need to take to the streets'

The government argues the reforms will encourage firms to hire more workers, but angry students and union members say the reforms are an attack on workers’ rights.

It is the second time in as many years that Valls has used a rarely invoked clause in France’s constitution, known as Article 49-3, that allows for reform by decree. Last year he used it to push a law through parliament that loosened restrictions on shops staying closed on Sundays.

Why French students protest like no one else

Although Valls watered down parts of the labour bill in March following a series of large student and union protests across the country, the proposal retains measures that give more flexibility to employers to agree deals with employees on working time.

It also eases restictions on layoffs made for economic reasons.

Rebel legislators in the Socialist Party accused the government of riding roughshod over parliament, with one calling the move “anti-democratic”.

“It’s a heavy-handed way of using the constitution to prevent the nation’s representatives from having their say,” said Laurent Baumel, a rebel Socialist lawmaker, in comments to reporters.

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

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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