President Emmanuel Macron’s government has begun its drive to overhaul France’s rigid labour laws, giving the details first to the unions and bosses’ organisations and later to the public.He has promised a “revolution” to free up the energy of the workforce, making it easier for bosses to hire and fire.But since he came to power in May his popularity has waned.Protests against the plan are expected next month, but one of the biggest unions says it will not take part.Jean-Claude Mailly, the leader of Force Ouvrière (FO) praised the government’s “real consultation” and “social dialogue” and wanted no role in demonstrations on 12 September. Another leading union, the CFDT, is also seen as unlikely to join the protests, which are being spearheaded by the far-left CGT. Further demonstrations are promised by far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon on 23 September.What does Macron want to do?France has an unemployment rate of 9.5%, double that of the other big European economies and Mr Macron has vowed to cut it to 7% by 2022. France’s unwieldy labour code is some 3,000 pages long and is seen by many as a straitjacket for business.
The package of about 60 measures, to be detailed in a 150-page document, has been drawn up by Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud and was being presented to the unions and employers’ organisations before a public announcement by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe at noon on Thursday (10:00 GMT).Among the biggest reforms, businesses are expected to be offered more flexibility in negotiating wages and conditions. The main focus of talks with unions will be shifted from a national to a company level. Companies with fewer than 50 employees would be able to negotiate with workers’ representatives that are not affiliated with unions, reports say. Workers’ councils in the largest companies will be streamlined.One of the thorniest problems for the government is how to make it easier for companies to dismiss staff. There is to be a cap on damages that can be awarded to workers for unfair dismissal. However, after months of consultations, ministers have agreed to increase the cap from their original proposal.Will he succeed?He has a far greater chance than anyone before him. François Hollande’s Socialist government watered down plans to reform the labour code in the face of street protests. However, Mr Macron has already won parliamentary backing to push these reforms through by decree, and he has co-opted two of the three biggest unions.There will be big street demonstrations but labour reform is top of the president’s priorities. An opinion poll on Wednesday showed that nine out of 10 French people agreed that their country’s labour code had to be reformed, although 60% were worried about the Macron plan.
What does Macron say?The president knows the challenge he faces in winning over the electorate and he says he is expecting months of resistance to the proposals.”Our labour market reforms mark a profound transformation, and as I promised, must be ambitious and effective enough to continue bringing down mass unemployment,” President Macron told Le Point magazine on Wednesday.France was “the only big EU economy that hasn’t combated mass unemployment for more than three decades”, he complained, adding that the biggest victims were the young and the unskilled.Mr Macron has seen his popularity slide dramatically since he came to power on 7 May. A poll on 27 August suggested his approval ratings had fallen from 57% in July to 40%.Last week, on a visit to Romania, he complained that France was not a “reformable country… because French men and women hate reform”. He quickly went on to explain that what France needed was “transformation” rather than reform.