French unions renew labor reform protest

By Hajer M’tiri

PARIS (AA) – Just a day before President Emmanuel Macron adopts contested labor reforms by decree, two large French unions are mobilizing on Thursday for fresh protests and industrial action.

As with last week’s protests, which saw nearly 200,000 people across France taking to the streets, some other major unions, such as the CFDT and FO, are not participating.

Several newspapers were not printed on Thursday because of industrial action and truck drivers have blocked several major routes in a go-slow.

A march from Montparnasse to Place d’Italie in Paris is planned for 2 p.m. (1200 GMT).

Public transport in Paris is running as normal, operator RATP said. The country’s SNCF rail company said it was able to provide 95 percent of its services.

Macron has made it clear he will stand firm.

“I believe in democracy, but democracy isn’t the street,” he said on Wednesday in an interview with CNN from the UN General Assembly in New York. “I do respect those who are protesting, but I also respect the French voters, and they voted for change”.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe revealed last month the 36 reform measures which will be presented in the form of five decrees.

They give more flexibility to employers to set pay and working conditions; allow small businesses with less than 20 employees to negotiate directly with staff without union intervention; give greater freedom to companies to hire and fire; and limit payouts for unfair dismissals.

For Macron and Philippe, the reforms aim to modernize the country’s 3,500-page labor code. Philippe Martinez, the head of the Communist Party-linked CGT, branded the reforms a “social coup d‘etat”.

France has an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, double that of the other big European economies such as Germany. Macron has vowed to cut it to seven percent by 2022.

Further protests are promised on Saturday by far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon and truck drivers associated with France’s second and third largest unions announced they would hold a rolling strike on Monday.