Macron unveils major overhaul of labor code

French government unveiled a major overhaul of the labor code yesterday, a signature reform that will test President Macron's ability to force through business-friendly changes.
Macron unveils major overhaul of labor code

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe attends a news conference after presenting the government's labor reform bill to the union leaders at the prime minister's Hotel Matignon office in Paris, France, August 31, 2017.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s government unveiled a major overhaul of the labor code yesterday, a signature reform that will test his ability to force through business-friendly changes and face down protests.

The 39-year-old centrist sees overhauling France’s rigid labor regulations as key to tackling the unemployment rate which is 9.5 percent in France — roughly twice the level of Britain or Germany.

The measures are aimed in particular at helping small and medium-sized business by curbing the power of trade unions, limiting unfair dismissal awards and allowing bosses to negotiate working terms and conditions directly with their employees.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, unveiling the changes at a press conference, called them “ambitious, balanced and fair” and said they would help France “make up for lost years” of mass unemployment.

“There are differences. We accept them,” Philippe said, referring to criticism from some large trade unions but praise from small business groups.

The moderate CFDT union said it was “disappointed” by the proposed changes overall, while the hard-left Force Ouvriere union also said it disagreed with many of the measures.

But crucially from Macron’s perspective, neither of them said they would recommend their members join planned street protests next month by the Communist-backed CGT, France’s biggest union.

The reform is a pivotal part of Macron’s domestic agenda and the first step of a planned overhaul of France’s social model which is set to include changes to jobless benefits and pensions.

The changes will be implemented via executive order, allowing Macron to avoid a lengthy parliamentary debate.

The overhaul will be adopted by the government in September and must then be ratified by parliament, where the president’s Republic on the Move party has a large majority.

The move is set to bring the first demonstrations against his government, with protests called on September 12 and 23.

Special Reports