Protests staged in France over labour reform

Published: Wednesday 9th March 2016 by The News Editor

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A day of protests against French President Francois Hollande’s efforts to tamper with the country’s 35-hour working week is being staged across the country.

Several union and student organisations called protests in more than 200 cities across France to try to kill a Bill which has even divided Mr Hollande’s Socialists.

The protests fall on the same day as rail strikes that are delaying some suburban and long-distance trains – but not local transport.

The contested labour reform would amend France’s 35-hour working week, voted in by the Socialists in 2000 and now a cornerstone of the left. The current Socialist government wants adjustments to reduce France’s 10% unemployment rate as the shortened working week was meant to do.

The proposal technically maintains the 35-hour working week, but allows companies to organise alternative working times without following industry-wide deals – up to a 48-hour working week and 12 hours per day. In “exceptional circumstances”, employees could work up to 60 hours a week.

To allow companies to deal with business booms, one measure would allow employees to work more than 35 hours without being paid overtime. In exchange, they would have more days off later on. Other measures would relax rules on lay-offs and working from home and at night.

The proposals have turned all major employee unions and youth organisations against the government. With next year’s presidential election looming and Mr Hollande’s popularity having reached its nadir, legislation to make it easier for companies to end employment deals is fuelling discontent in a country badly hit by the economic downturn.

Ahead of a big gathering scheduled on Paris’s Place de la Republique, several Parisian high schools were blocked by students who set up a barricade with rubbish bins.

Outside the Helene Boucher high school, students cheered any mention of how the movement would prevent Mr Hollande and the government from passing the Bill.

Maryanne Gicquel, a spokeswoman for the FIDL student union, described young people’s journey to a stable job as “a succession of internships and poorly paid jobs”.

“Now we’re being told that it will be easier for companies to lay off workers,” she said.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ government insisted that the Bill will not be withdrawn but discussions continue with union representatives. The Bill, initially set to be discussed at Parliament today, has been delayed by two weeks amid growing opposition.

A recent survey by pollster Oxoda found that 70% of French people over the age of 18 opposed the Bill. An online petition for its withdrawal has gathered more than one million signatures.

Mr Hollande’s pro-business policy, a shift from his left-wing campaign in 2012, has caused multiple rebellions among Socialists and the draft law is playing havoc within the ruling party.

Martine Aubry – the architect of the 35-hour week -described it as “the preparation of a long-lasting weakening of France, and of course the left”.

Published: Wednesday 9th March 2016 by The News Editor

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