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French Socialists press on with labour reform despite union protests

media Trade unionists demonstrate against the proposed labour law in Paris on … Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

The French government has backed a labour flexibility bill Wednesday, despite thousands joining demonstrations against the proposals on Tuesday. Several French unions called the protest, although others have joined bosses in backing it.

Thousands joined protests in at least 174 towns and cities on Wednesday, signalling a breach between the Socialist government and four of the country’s main union federations, including the powerful CGT and Force Ouvrière.

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Workers from the French carmaker Peugeot, where thousands of jobs are threatened, led the march in Paris and were joined by thousands of other workers and unemployed people.

Opponents claim the proposals will not save jobs but will undermine workers’ conditions.

But another large union grouping, the CFDT, as well as two smaller ones, in January signed an agreement with bosses’ union, Medef, that provides the basis of the bill.

The cabinet was set to discuss the bill, whose declared aim is saving jobs, on Wednesday.

It will reform the job market and allow struggling firms to reduce wages and working hours.

“The deal is a real step forward,” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Tuesday. “We'll be able to anticipate dramatic changes in the economy. This means companies will not be forced to fire employees when they fall on hard times. They will have other options.”

The French parliament is to examine the bill in April and the new measures could come into effect as early as May.

Medef leader Laurence Parisot on Wednesday called on the right-wing UMP party to join the Socialists in voting for the bill in the form that it was agreed in January’s talks.

“If you have a 15 or 20 per cent drop in orders you can, with a company-wide agreement […] temporarily say we’re cutting working hours, wages but in exchange we won’ cut jobs,” she told France 2 television.

“This is the tool the Germans used in 2009-2010 and saved the German car industry,” she claimed.

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