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Complex French Labour Laws… An Update

Last Thursday, 26th May, the strike action that we discussed in our last article on the changes to French labour laws escalated further.

Last year, when we first discussed the reforms, it was anticipated that the country’s workers and trade unions would strike in protest. Since that time strike action has been widespread, yet the government has consistently failed to placate the public. Regardless of your profession, or which industry you operate in, the overwhelming reaction to the proposed reforms has been inescapable in France, and it has become increasingly apparent that within these reforms, Hollande’s administration has failed to negotiate effectively with the country’s most important resource: its people.

While Hollande’s reforms seek to benefit businesses, they are disregarding the most important aspect of undertaking good business by alienating the French workforce. While French workers may seem to lack flexibility in the face of increasingly necessary reforms, Hollande’s government’s decision to push these through using executive powers has generated an indignation that is likely to cause more harm than good in the short term. This was no better demonstrated by the events which unfolded last week, as riot police made 77 arrests across Paris and other cities with the mass protests resulting in a number of injured police officers and significant damage to shops and cars.

French newsstands also stood empty, as the French trade union, Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), prevented nearly all of the country’s national newspapers from going to press. On Wednesday, the CGT contacted the French newspaper editors’ union insisting that each publication printed a comment from Philippe Martinez, CGT leader, calling for the reforms to the labour laws to be abandoned. The only newspaper to publish the opinion piece was the left-wing daily publication L’Humanité.

This marks the third occasion since March that French newspapers have been prevented from going to print and distribution. In an official statement the newspaper editors’ union claimed that publications were being “held hostage” amid a dispute which has “nothing to do with newspapers”. The union went on to state that the victims of the block on printing are its readers.

As the country prepares to host Euro 2016 in just two weeks, the ongoing strike action is certainly a cause for concern for the French authorities, as the protests have affected flights and rail networks. In addition, a third of the country’s petrol stations stood dry or dangerously low following blockades from protesters at refineries.

The state of chaos which erupted across France is a culmination of several months of aggressive opposition, which has largely been overlooked by Hollande and his government. German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, has publicly backed the reforms, however Hollande has faced criticism and calls for amendments within his own party. While the government have confirmed that the reforms will not be withdrawn, following the continued public unrest it has been suggested that the proposed changes may be amended.

As the CGT announces another day of strike action on 14th June, just four days after the opening of Euro 2016, the rest of Europe wait expectantly to see what Hollande’s next move will be.

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