PARIS – The Latest on France’s planned labor reforms (all times local):
France’s prime minister says five bold, and divisive, labor reforms are meant to “cure” not “treat the symptoms” of France’s long-standing jobless late.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said, while announcing the planned reforms on Thursday, that the aim is to “make up for lost years, missed occasions.” He says “it probably would have been easier and less risky to treat the symptoms rather than cure them.”
He stressed that President Francois Macron was elected in May to make changes that have a deep impact on labor law and labor relations.
The five measures will be passed via a special procedure at parliament to avoid lengthy debate and ratified by year’s end.
French President Emmanuel Macron faces his biggest test yet with the release of a divisive pro-business labor reform that he hopes will foster stronger growth and reduce the country’s stubbornly high unemployment rate by revolutionizing the way the French work.
But the high-stakes move Thursday comes just as his popularity is sinking. Unions and political opponents have already called for street protests and strikes in what could be an unusually hot autumn for the recently elected president.
His plans to reform the labor market to make it more flexible were at the heart of Macron’s election campaign. However, opponents fear it will weaken hard-won worker protections synonymous with the much-envied French lifestyle.
Foreign investors and France’s European neighbors are watching President Emmanual Macron’s labor reform plan closely — almost as closely as the French workers it will directly affect.
France is the No. 2 economy in the eurozone, but its chronic 10-percent unemployment has long weighed on the region’s growth.
The labor overhaul is the central pillar in Macron’s promises to create jobs and make his country more globally competitive after repeated failed efforts at reform.
Macron said that changing labor rules was but one “instrument” to attain something larger, “the freeing up of energies.”
Macron says “we must see things as they are: We are the only major economy of the European Union which hasn’t vanquished mass unemployment in more than three decades.”
A big question is how much President Emmanuel Macron’s labor reforms will reduce the power of national collective bargaining, which has long dominated French labor relations — the reason French unions are so influential despite relatively low union membership. The plan is expected to give businesses more flexibility to define internal working rules instead of being bound by sector-wide rules.
Left-wing opponents fear it will hand too much power to profit-focused bosses, while some conservatives fear it won’t go far enough.
One measure is expected to cap the financial penalty for companies sued for firing employees. Other changes aim at simplifying negotiations process between employers and employees.
Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said Wednesday more than 100 meetings with unions and employers organizations were held to prepare the reform. H
Pierre Gattaz, president of France’s main employers’ organization, Medef, said on BFM television: “We have been awaiting this plan for decades.”
The reform’s success depends heavily on how many unions oppose it. Philippe Martinez, leader of the hard-left CGT, one of France’s major unions, has called for protests and strikes Sept. 12, but some others are waiting to see the detail in the decrees.
Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who finished fourth in the presidential race, has called for another street protest on Sept. 23 against “anti-democratic” measures.
The government decided to use a special procedure at Parliament to avoid a lengthy debate and get the labor plan passed more quickly.
The draft decrees released Thursday aren’t final, but nearly so. They are to be formally approved in a Cabinet meeting on Sept. 20 after being endorsed by the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative authority. Parliament, dominated by Macron’s party, must ratify them by the end of the year.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he was “impressed” by what he heard about the reform. He says “I’m sure this will help (France) to become stronger.”