Hollande faces protests over labour reforms

Hollande faces protests over labour reforms

Rail strikes are nothing new to the French. Source: Wikimedia

French trade unions and youth groups have joined forces in a day-long protest against President Francois Hollande’s move to alter the 35-hour working week.

More than 200 French cities saw protests in opposition to the bill, which is also dividing the ruling Socialist party.

Rail strikes are being held on the same day which have seen suburban and long-distance train services disrupted. Eurostar services between Paris, London and Brussels would also be affected, the operator said.

The move to amend France’s 35-hour maximum working week, originally introduced in 2000 by the Socialists, involves attempts to cut back France’s 10-per-cent unemployment rate. The proposal maintains the 35-hour limit but allows companies to use alternative working times without following industry-wide deals, up to a 48-hour working week and 12 hours per day. In “exceptional circumstances”, staff could work for up to 60 hours a week.

To respond to rising demand within a business, one measure would allow employees to work more than 35 hours without being paid overtime but would instead receive more holiday. Other measures would relax rules on dismissals and working from home and during the night.

The government and business leaders claim the reforms will encourage employers to recruit more staff on permanent contracts rather than temporary ones, favouring young applicants especially.

“France does what has to be done regarding the labour law … in an effort to preserve its social model while adapting it, ” Hollande said in a statement.

All major trade unions and youth groups have opposed Hollande over the issue. A presidential election is due next year and Hollande’s popularity has reached a new low.

Maryanne Gicquel, a spokesperson for the FIDL student union, said the young now faced “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.

Pollster Oxoda reported that 70 per cent of over-18s opposed the bill and an online petition for its withdrawal has gathered more than 1 million signatures.

Martine Aubry, the former first secretary of the Socialist party and creator of the 35-hour week, described the proposed legislation as “the preparation of a long-lasting weakening of France, and of course, the left.”

France is suffering from feeble economic growth, which largely accounts for the poor employment figures. The Bank of France announced this week that it was expecting growth of 0.3 per cent in the first three months of 2016, revising downwards its February estimate by 0.1 percentage points.

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