France unveils labor reforms in first step to re-shaping economy

Saul Bowman
September 1, 2017

What is France's labour code?

President Emmanuel Macron's most daring undertaking, reforming France's almost sacrosanct labor laws, got cheers and jeers as it went public Thursday. They are to be ratified by the end of the year.

Philippe and the employment minister, Muriel Pènicaud, outlined the four main pillars of the decrees, which they said were the result of hundreds of hours of talks resulting in 200 pages of measures aimed at adapting the code to "a changing world".

"There are differences. We accept them", Philippe said, presenting the reforms which formed the basis of three months of negotiations with the unions. "Fortunately we've done our union work".

But union leaders, speaking to reporters after the meeting with the government, had mixed reactions, expressing satisfaction with some points and dismay at others, like the permission for bosses to negotiate directly with staff members in companies with fewer than 20 workers.

However, the prime minister underlined the urgent need to act in the face of the situation in France "characterized by decades of unemployment".


France's biggest union, the reformist CFDT, said that it was disappointed with what amounted to a missed opportunity to improve labour relations, but said it would not call a strike against the reforms. "We have three columns: things we have advanced on, things we have avoided and things we disagree on".

At a news conference, Philippe said the five decrees had to be seen as a whole and not "individual measures that might be considered curious when examined alone".

Thursday's reforms come at a pivotal moment for Macron's domestic agenda as he seeks to encourage entrepreneurship in France, where the unemployment rate of 9.5 percent is nearly double that of its large European rivals.

"It is a notable aggression against the labor law, with more premeditation", said Alexis Corbiere, Melenchon's spokesperson.

"The reform of the labour market is a reform of profound transformation", Mr Macron told the weekly Le Point in a wide-ranging interview published online Wednesday, adding that it had to be "ambitious and efficient enough to continue to lower mass unemployment". The changes, he said, would end the constricting of France "squeezed by rules and rights ... which believes itself to be a country of liberty".

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