French Protests Over Macron's New Labor Reforms

By Faith Magbanua, September 13, 2017 23:09 PM

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The people of France are currently not very happy with their new president after he announced that he will be seeking for reforms for the country's labor laws.

The protests have begun in cities across France in the first big test of Emmanuel Macron's presidency. More or less 4,000 strikes have been called too, but two of the biggest unions have separated themselves from the action.

Marches were due in Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Nantes and other major cities in France.

However, President Macron missed the disruption as he travelled to the Caribbean to see the destruction wrought by Hurricane Irma.

The President was also due to visit St Martin and St Barts, which were among the islands worst hit by the hurricane last week.

The first marches took place in Marseille, Perpignan and Nice in the south, Bordeaux in the west and Le Havre and Caen in the north, each drawing a few thousand demonstrators. Scuffles were reported in Lyon as police tried to block the path of protesters.

While protest organizers were hoping for a big turnout in the centre of Paris, the demonstrations also called for workers at the Eiffel Tower to stage a strike. Services on regional trains were reduced but most intercity trains were running as normal.

What are Macron's reforms?

President Macron came to power with a pledge to overhaul France's enormous labor code and lower unemployment to 7% by 2022, down from its current level of 9.5%.

Macron has wanted to modernize and liberalize France's labor market since he became François Hollande's economic minister. "We need a shock of trust, a real acceleration," he said in an interview while running for president. "We need to pass this reform quickly, so that the first effects are felt fast."

How does it work?

The labor law reform is composed of five government rulings, which list the 36 measures planned to "reinforce the social dialogue".

Macron has always said he wanted this reform to start right after his election, so he chose to use his executive powers to force it through. Rather than facing a parliamentary vote on the text, he simply asked the National Assembly, which his party controls, to give the government the right to publish rulings instead. Among all the things Macron did this summer that didn't help his approval ratings, this issue is highest on the list.

Although the general content of the rulings has been known since Macron's presidential campaign, the French prime minister, Edouard Philippe, presented the rulings in a press conference on 31 August. The project will be officially introduced during the ministers' council on 22 September, and should become law later this month.

The new laws hand companies more flexibility in negotiating wages and conditions directly with employees, and limit damages paid to workers for unfair dismissal.

Furthermore, Macron's team announced the plans last month after weeks of consultations with unions and employers.

Last week, the president angered opponents with a remark on a visit to Greece. "I am fully determined and I won't cede any ground, not to slackers, nor cynics, nor hardliners," he said.

The demonstrations were not expected to be on the scale of those staged a year ago against the previous government's attempts to reform the labor code. Two of the other biggest unions, CFDT and Force Ouvrière (FO), said they would not take part, although some local FO branches were planning to march against the reforms anyway.

A number of smaller unions are also involved, including the public sector union FSU, Solidaires, and student organization, Unef.

Some commentators pointed out the irony that many of those taking part in the protests had little to do with the private sector, which was what the reforms were all about.

 

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