French labour reforms: Government to force plan through

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls addresses parliament. 10 May 2016 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced the cabinet decision to the National Assembly

The French cabinet has given the go-ahead for Prime Minister Manuel Valls to force through highly controversial labour reforms.

An extraordinary cabinet meeting invoked the French constitution's rarely used Article 49.3, allowing the government to bypass parliament.

It came after rebel MPs from the governing Socialist party had vowed to vote down the bill.

The reforms will make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers.

Opponents, however, say the bill will allow employers to bypass workers' rights on pay, overtime and breaks.

Later on Tuesday, opposition right-wing parties filed a motion of no confidence in the government, to be debated on Thursday.

Mr Valls said he was "not afraid" of the vote, which would need the support of left-wing MPs to bring the government down.

"If there are deputies on the left who wish to vote for the right's censure motion they can do so. But what a contradiction," he told TFI television.

French labour reform bill - main points

  • The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours
  • Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay
  • The law eases conditions for laying off workers, strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn
  • Employers given more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated

Busting the myth of France's 35-hour working week

Mr Valls was booed by MPs from the far left and the conservative opposition when he announced the cabinet's decision to the National Assembly.

"This text, useful for businesses and for workers, faces, I regret, opposition from all sides," he said.

"My responsibility is to move forward and ensure that this text is adopted."

The proposed reforms, which also include changes to France's cherished 35-hour working week, have sparked waves of sometimes violent protests across France.

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside the National Assembly in Paris on Tuesday, calling for President Francois Hollande to resign.

Voices from the Paris protests

Benoit Coquin, 26: "I think that it's a law that's beginning to destroy the structure of working rights."

Benjamin: "I'm here today to protest against a law that is unfair to citizens. It gives less and less rights to the employees and we're protesting because of the way they're trying to pass this law without doing a vote at the (National) Assembly."

Nicholas: "Tonight is a special night because the government is forcing through this law, so we decided to come here. We are not stuck in one place, we are everywhere where it matters. We want to show that people have a voice."

Anais, 31, student: "I'm here for a real democracy. Without repression."

The BBC's Lucy Williamson in Paris says the bill, known as the Khomri law after Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri, has forced a wedge between the governing Socialist party and its left-wing supporters.

The government says relaxing workers' protection will encourage businesses to hire more people and help to combat chronic unemployment.

President Hollande has said that he will only consider running for re-election next year if he can bring down the jobless rate, which is more than 10%.

Image copyright Rosanna Pound-Woods
Image caption Protesters gathered in Paris on Tuesday following the government's decision
Image caption They complained that the use of Article 49.3 was undemocratic

The decision to invoke article 49.3 was made after the government failed to reach a compromise on the bill with a group of rebel MPs within the Socialist party.

The only way the bill can now be stopped is by the motion of censure - a vote of no confidence - that was filed by two right-wing parties on Tuesday.

Between them they have 226 of the 288 votes needed to topple the government on Thursday.

However, correspondents say they are unlikely to find enough left-wing MPs willing to support them.

Related Topics

More on this story