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French labour law poised for passage amid protest

Union and student-backed demonstrations against the reforms which they see as too pro-business and threatening to cherished workers rights began in March, with some protests descending into violence. Photograph: (Twitter)

AFP Paris, France Jul 05, 2016, 12.24 PM (IST)
The French socialist government was reportedly poised today to push through labour reforms without a vote as protesters gathered for their 12th show of opposition to the controversial package since March.

"The decision has been taken and the prime minister will announce it officially in parliament, likely at the start of the debate at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT)," a political source told AFP.

It would be the second time Prime Minister Manuel Valls will have used the so-called 49-3 provision for this package of reforms because he could not count on the support of the left flank of the Socialist Party in parliament when it first came up for a vote in May.

The move prompted the opposition to call a vote of no-confidence, which the government survived by a comfortable margin.

Today the head of the centre-right Republicans parliamentary group, Christian Jacob, said they would not call such a vote this time around.

An opinion poll published last week found that 73 per cent of the French would be "shocked" if the government used the 49-3 provision for the final passage of the reforms, which are aimed at reining in unemployment by freeing up the job market.

Union and student-backed demonstrations against the reforms which they see as too pro-business and threatening to cherished workers rights began in early March, with some protests descending into violence.

The worst unrest was seen in Paris on June 14, just four days after the start of the Euro 2016 football championships in France, when around 40 people were hurt and dozens were arrested.

President Francois Hollande, who faces a re-election bid next April, had hoped for a signature reform to reverse his dire approval ratings.But pressure from the street, as well as parliament`s back benches, caused the government to water down the proposals, which only angered bosses while failing to assuage critics.

Unions say the main remaining sticking point is a measure giving precedence to agreements negotiated between companies and their staff over deals reached with unions across entire industrial sectors notably on working hours.

Pierre Gattaz, the head of the employers` federation MEDEF, said last week that he was "very disappointed" with the bill in its watered-down form, calling it a "monument of complexity, absolutely illegible" for small and medium-sized businesses.

"No one on the ground understands anything anymore and it`s a law that will be of absolutely no use for employment," Gattaz said after meeting with Valls.

Last week the right-dominated Senate approved a more business-friendly version of the legislation.

The Senate bill, passed by a vote of 185 to 156, would scrap the 35-hour work week and restore a cap on the amount employers would have to pay out when they lose labour disputes. 

With the two chambers unlikely to agree a final version, the lower house has the final say, but now the government is expected to invoke clause 49-3 and force through its version.

The embattled socialist government also had to force a package of economic reforms through parliament last year using the constitutional measure, to prevent the rebel left flank of the party from sinking it. 

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