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France to push labour reform despite protest

PARIS

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Wednesday that he would pay attention to demonstrations against his planned labour reforms but pledged to push through with them, a day after protests took place nationwide.

Thousands of hard-left trade unionists marched through French cities on Tuesday to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s labour law reforms, although turnout appeared lower than at demonstrations in previous years.

After weeks of negotiations, the government last month set out measures including a cap on payouts for dismissals judged unfair, and greater freedom for companies to hire and fire.

Philippe said that while he was paying close attention to the protests, the election this year had nevertheless shown a willingness by French citizens to back the reforms.

“I am listening and I am paying attention. But let me allow myself to state that the French, when they vote, also have a right to be treated with respect. And the reform that we are putting in place, it was announced by the President at the time of the election,” he told France 2 television.

In a sign that popular protest could gain momentum, truck drivers belonging to France’s second and third largest unions said they would launch a rolling strike on Sept 25 to force the government into a reversal. Trucker strikes previously brought large parts of France to a halt, hurting the economy.

The government plans to adopt the decrees on Sept. 22.

“I am listening and I am paying attention. But let me state that the French, when they vote, also have a right to be treated with respect,” Philippe told France 2 television. “And the reform that we are putting in place was announced by the president at the time of his election.”

Labour unions have thwarted previous attempts by governments on the political right and left to weaken France’s strict labour code. In a change of tack, Macron’s administration spent weeks negotiating its proposals with union bosses over the summer.

Reuters