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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Macron unveils huge transformation of France's labour laws

The centrist president has defied France's powerful trade unions by going ahead with his first major domestic upheaval

Mr Macron's reforms have resulted in France's powerful trade unions threatening to strike. EPA/ Christophe Petit Tesson
Mr Macron's reforms have resulted in France's powerful trade unions threatening to strike. EPA/ Christophe Petit Tesson

Promising a transformation in how French employees view their relationship with business, Emmanuel Macron’s government has unveiled an ambitious workplace reform package.

The centrist president has defied the country’s powerful trade unions who are threatening to bring the country to a halt through strike action. After weeks of talks aimed at securing the cooperation of union bosses, the government is now going ahead with its first major domestic upheaval.

Edouard Philippe, the prime minister, declared his proposals "ambitious, balanced and fair” even as he noted difference still existed with the unions.

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Speaking to the magazine Le Point, Mr Macron said his reforms would be transformative. He compared his role to Nicolaus Copernicus, who transformed perceptions of the universe by first formulating the idea that the earth rotated around the sun. Mr Macron has previously caused controversy by casting his presidency as role akin to the Roman God Jupiter firing down thunderbolts on his people.

A five point plan includes a scaling back of the power of judges to prevent lay-offs. Previously judges could stop sackings if the firm was profitable globally. In future they will only take into account the French operational performance before green-lighting restructuring.

The measures also curb the role of trade unions in small companies, limit unfair dismissal pay-outs and allow bosses to negotiate more working terms and conditions directly with their employees.

The head of the country's biggest private sector union CFDT, Laurent Berger, said he was "disappointed" by the reform overall, a pre-election promise by new President Emmanuel Macron.

The boss of the hard-left Force Ouvriere union, Jean-Claude Mailly, said he disagreed with some of the changes, but like Berger suggested he would not recommend his members join street protests.

"A debate will take place in public now," he said. "Fortunately we've done our union work."

"There are differences. We accept them," Philippe said, presenting the reforms which formed the basis of three months of negotiations with the unions.

The Communist-backed CGT has already called for a strike and demonstrations against the reform on September 12.

Enterprises are backing Mr Macron in the hope that he will make the French economy more competitive.

“We’ve got our backs against the wall,” said Pierre Gattaz, a representative of France’s main employers. “It’s extremely important that the government’s hand not tremble and that there not be 1,000 counter-parties, 1,000 restrictions, 1,000 exceptions.”

Mr Macron argues the measures are needed to introduce greater flexibility in France's rigid labour law to encourage hiring.

"We are the only major economy in the European Union that has not defeated mass unemployment for more than three decades," he told Le Point.

The reforms are due to be considered by the Constitutional Court at the end of the month and will take effect after clearing that hurdle.