Protest against labor law reform: general strike in france

In France, trade unions, student and pupil organizations are protesting against a planned reform of labor law – they say it is too business-friendly.

There was already a general strike on March 9 Photo: dpa

Unions, student and pupil organizations in France have mobilized against a planned reform of labor law with new protests. Across the country, some 200 rallies were planned on Thursday, according to union sources. Strikes at the state railroad SNCF and at the Paris transport companies caused obstructions in local and long-distance traffic in the morning, flights were canceled and there were delays due to an air traffic controllers’ strike.

In protest against the Socialist government’s plans, students in the greater Paris area blocked the entrances to around 50 high schools, as one student organization explained. There were also blockades in front of schools in other French cities.

The unions have been on the barricades for weeks against President Francois Hollande’s plans for a relaxation of French labor law. In early March, more than 200,000 people demonstrated nationwide against the reform, according to the authorities; organizers even spoke of around 450,000 demonstrators. Protests by schoolchildren a week ago resulted in serious rioting.

In the fight against record unemployment, Hollande and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls want, among other things, to relax the 35-hour week and simplify the rules for dismissals for operational reasons. Unions and student organizations, as well as the left wing of the ruling Socialist party, criticize the reform as too business-friendly – even after concessions were made by the government.

The cabinet approved the reform last week. The National Assembly will discuss the plan in plenary session from May 3. Until then, the unions have already announced further protests.

An overview of the sticking points of head of state Francois Hollande’s plan:

Relaxation of the 35-hour week

In principle, agreements within a company will be given more weight than sectoral agreements. In the future, for example, agreements between employees and the management of a company will be sufficient to extend working hours to 46 hours per week for up to twelve weeks and to limit the wage surcharge for overtime from 25 percent to ten percent.

Originally, the bosses of small and medium-sized companies with fewer than 50 employees were also to be allowed to decide on their own whether to further relax the 35-hour workweek. The basis for payment should be working days per year and no longer weekly working hours. However, the government abandoned the plan, much to the chagrin of the bosses of small businesses.

Clearer rules for dismissals for operational reasons

The criteria for dismissals for operational reasons will be clarified in order to eliminate gray areas. The aim is to prevent companies from being condemned by labor courts for unlawful terminations. In the future, compulsory redundancies will be possible if, among other things, a company reports a decline in orders or sales for four quarters in succession or submits a restructuring plan to become more competitive. Judges are to ensure that international groups do not inflate their economic problems in France to justify layoffs.

A recommended cap on severance pay

Originally, the government wanted to impose a fixed cap on severance payments following wrongful termination. After sharp protests from unions, however, it decided to merely set a non-binding benchmark. This, in turn, has raised the ire of employers, who are insisting on a fixed upper limit.

Working hours for young people

Plans to facilitate longer working hours for apprentices who are not of age, for example in the construction sector, caused particular anger among young people. An increase in working hours from eight to ten hours per day was to be possible without prior approval from the labor inspectorate – but in view of the protests, the government withdrew the plan.

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