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Macron’s government unveils ‘tough’ reform of unemployment benefits

Lucas Baroulet, AFP | French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (right) and Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud (left) give a press conference at the Hotel de Matignon in Paris on June 18, 2019.

French President Emmanuel Macron's government on Tuesday unveiled plans to make it more difficult for the unemployed to claim benefits, part of an overhaul of France's labour market that aims to boost the nation's economy.

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The planned changes extend the period people will have had to work to be entitled to unemployment benefits and reduces the amount wealthier workers can receive after six months out of work.

France's unemployed now get, on average, over €1,000 ($1,118) per month - an amount that can reach a maximum of €6,200 ($6,936) for two consecutive years.

Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud said the reform was “tough yet important”, while Prime Minister Édouard Phillipe stated that the primary objective of the legislation is “not to save money but to ensure that work pays more than inactivity”. Macron’s government is aiming for “full employment” by 2025.

However, France’s trade unions have denounced the plans as unfair and damaging to the country's social security system. “It’s just about saving money,” said Marylise Leon, deputy secretary general of the CFDT union.

Organised labour groups called for the government to focus instead on strengthening support for Pôle Emploi, a state-run network of job centres.

A leader at the far-left CGT union, Catherine Perret, called for protests against the labor changes.

A demonstration is scheduled next week in front of the unemployment benefits agency in Paris.

Meanwhile, business leaders have criticised plans to introduce sanctions for companies that keep workers on short-term contracts and incentives for those that offer permanent contracts instead.

The government expects these reforms to save €3.4 billion ($3.8 billion) over three years and hopes they will reduce the number of jobless.

Unemployment in France fell to 8.7% in the first quarter of the year, its lowest in a decade – yet it remains among the highest in Europe.

Despite the improved figures, unemployment has been a sensitive issue for Macron since he was lambasted in 2018 for telling a jobless man that he would find work if he "crossed the street".

Macron's government plans to pass the controversial labor law changes by decree this summer, a procedure that avoids a lengthy debate in parliament.

Key changes to France's labor market - a previous reform in 2017 made it easier to hire and fire French workers - are among the pro-business policies championed by Macron but rejected by anti-government protesters in the yellow vest movement that started last November.

Macron has vowed to keep making such changes to the economy to boost its competitiveness. Another major reform of France's pension system is scheduled to be presented in July.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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