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France's Socialist government forces through contested labour law

François Guillot, AFP | Prime Minister Manuel Valls addresses France’s lower house National Assembly on July 20, 2016.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Wednesday forced a contested labour reform through parliament without a vote, after failing to rally enough support for a bill critics say will increase unemployment and weaken job security.


Valls resorted to a controversial measure known as the “49-3”, which allows the government to sidestep a parliamentary debate and a vote on proposed legislation, for a third time in order to transform the bill into law.

President François Hollande and Valls have championed the labour reforms as a way to boost business confidence and employment figures in France, but have picked a bitter fight with student groups and unions in the process.


Speaking to Parliament on Wednesday, Valls described the bill as a “progressive” text that was “necessary for the future of the country”.

Opponents staged massive and often violent protests for months, insisting the reforms whittle away workers' rights by allowing employers to lay off workers more easily and to negotiate job conditions directly with staff instead of through unions.

By giving precedence to negotiations at the branch and company level, the reforms could lengthen employees' work weeks and modify overtime wages.

Protests nearly brought the country to a standstill this spring as union members blocked petrol refineries and depots, with train conductors and airline pilots joining nationwide strikes.

The use of the 49-3 measure in two previous instances and the government’s threat to ban union protests sparked accusations that the government was also trampling on democracy.

France’s Socialist government watered down on the original version of the bill, but not enough to win over hard-line unions and even many within the Socialist Party’s own ranks.

But by making concessions to the original bill, it also lost the support from right-wing MPs, who accused the government of not taking reforms far enough.

“This bill is, and will forever remain, stained by its antidemocratic character,” the Force Ouvrière union fumed in a statement on Wednesday.

The widely expected move by Valls left lawmakers in the lower house National Assembly little chance of derailing the reform before its final adoption.

They have 24 hours to mount a censure motion against the government or otherwise it is considered as definitively adopted.

Unions have vowed to launch a fresh day of strikes on September 15.

France's ‘bloated’ labour code?


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