Europe

Hollande 'won't give in' amid labour reforms protests

France's President Francois Hollande (L) speaks during a morning radio show on Europe 1 station on 17 May 2016 in Paris Image copyright AFP
Image caption The French government survived a no confidence vote on its handling of the labour reforms last week - and President Hollande has now staked his reputation on pushing them through

French President Francois Hollande has vowed not to back down in the dispute with trade unions over new labour laws.

In an interview, he threatened tougher action against violent protests.

Fresh demonstrations against the reforms are spreading across France, with lorry drivers barricading roads in Nantes, Marseille and Le Mans.

The government says the labour market reforms will create jobs; unions say they will destroy job security and erode workers' rights.

Last week, the government survived a vote of no confidence put forward by the opposition over the reforms, after forcing the reforms through without the backing of parliament. The draft law will now be debated in the Senate.

But the next challenge facing Mr Hollande's government is a week of rolling strikes and other action called by the radical CGT union.

At the forefront of Tuesday's actions were lorry drivers, who say the reforms will allow employers to halve their overtime pay.

Marches are scheduled in cities around France, and rail workers are also due to begin strikes on Tuesday evening that could disrupt transport through until Friday.

French labour reform bill - main points

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Thousands of people in Nantes joined a fresh wave of marches and protests against the labour reforms on Tuesday
  • 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

Speaking on the Europe 1 radio station as the protests began, President Hollande insisted that he would "not give in", saying that it would be impossible, given the state of the country he inherited four years ago.

He says the reforms are needed to address chronically high levels of unemployment - which is at 10%, reaching 25% among the young - though unions and student groups dispute that.

Mr Hollande warned those he said were using the regular anti-reform demonstrations to cause trouble, claiming 1,000 people had already been arrested and hundreds of police officers injured.

"Protesting is a right," he said, "but causing trouble is a crime."

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