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Economy

Macron signs controversial labour reform into French law

media French President Emmanuel Macron signs the decrees accompanied by Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud (L) and government spokesman Christophe Castaner Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

President Emanuel Macron on Friday signed into law his reforms of France's labour law, as unions and left-wingers continued to protest against them. The changes will come into effect on Monday when they are published in the government's official gazette.

After three months of discussion with unions and employers, Macron signed his government's priority legislation live on TV.

Although the main points were announced during Macron's election campaign and debated in about 80 meetings, the "social partners" had just two hours to read the final 159-page version of 36 changes to French labour law.

Macron, accompanied by Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud and government spokesman Christophe Castaner, then signed the five decrees at lunchtime on Friday, declaring that they "have the confidence of employers and their employees".

The final drafts have not been debated in parliament, either, since the government has introduced them by executive order, arguing that they were urgently needed to tackle France's unemployment, which is 9.6 percent compared to a European average of 7.8 percent.

Protests to continue

There was parliamentary debate on the decrees, however, with the hard-left France Unbowed party putting up a hard fight, and the CGT union has organised two one-day strikes and days of protest against the reform.

The second of those, on Thursday, was less well-supported than the first, the Interior Ministry declaring that 132,000 people joined demonstrations across the country, compared to 223,000 on 12 September.

The CGT claimed a higher figure on both occasions.

The union's leader, Philippe Martinez, has pledged to continue the fight and lorry drivers from his union and Force Ouvrière, a federation that did not back Thursday's protest at a national level, were to start strike action on Monday 25 September.

France Unbowed is also battling on, with a national demonstration planned for Saturday.

Claiming he has a mandate from both this year's presidential and general elections, Macron dismissed the protests on Tuesday.

"I believe in democracy but democracy is not made in the street," he said.

Flexisecurity and workers' rights

Macron on Friday boasted that the changes were "unprecedented" and had been passed in record time for such a major reform.

Opponents claim they are an "XXL version" of the previous government's labour reform, which faced long and stormy opposition on the streets before finally being passed.

The Macron government's argument for "flexisecurity" - making it easier for bosses to fire so that they are readier to take on new staff - is the same as the Hollande government's justification for its changes and many of the measures extend those passed in 2016.

Among the most important are:

  • A cap on compensation for unfair dismissal, except for cases of discrimination and infringement of "fundamental rights", and a reduction of the time limit in which an employee can claim it, although the rate of compensation has been raised 25 percent to sweeten the pill;

  • Multinationals will be able to declare redundancies on the basis of their performance in France alone, leading unions to fear that they will relocate from France to low-wage countries;

  • A reduction of the number of workplace committees from four to two, with health and safety now being debated at an expanded works council;

  • Small companies will now be able to negotiate with an employees' representative who does not have union support and it will be easier to call workplace referendums;

  • Only 11 categories of working conditions, some of which were previously covered by national labour law, must be negotiated at industry level, allowing workplace-level agreements to undercut national ones;

  • The extension of the right to use contracts linked to the duration of a project, previously limited to construction, to other industries.

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