Brussels welcomes French labour reforms as unions and left camp complain

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe signed the labour reform. [Christian Hartmann/EPA]

Decried by the opposition and trade unions, the French labour reforms have been praised by the European Commission and employers. EURACTIV France reports.

It was Macron’s electoral promise: the reform of labour laws would be the priority. On Thursday (31 August), Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud revealed a number of decrees aimed at amending the existing labour laws.

Officially intended to “strengthen the social dialogue”, these measures range from capping compensations in case of disputes with employees to limiting the time for workers’ appeals and introducing the possibility to negotiate directly with workers, thus excluding trade unions, in enterprises with fewer than 50 employees.

All are measures that clearly benefit employers.

Pierre Gattaz, chair of France’s employers’ union, welcomed these measures as “the first important step [to] encourage business owners’ confidence”.

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“End of labour”, “fraud”

The socialist party, the far left and – to a lesser extent – trade unions have given the reforms a cool reception.

“It’s the end of employment contracts,” despaired Philippe Martinez, chair of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), France’s oldest trade union. The French Democratic Workers’ Confederation (CFDT) said it was disappointed but would not join street protests called for 12 September.

The radical left has launched two days of mobilisations, on 12 and 23 September, while the far right called the reforms a “fraud”.

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The reforms have been interpreted as a sign of confidence by European leaders. The German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel already congratulated France on Wednesday (30 August).

And the European Commission has praised the reforms in much warmer terms than the 2016 law El Khomri (the reform signed by Hollande’s late minister of labour, of which Macron was a strong supporter).

Probably because the reforms closely mirror the prescriptions by the European Commission: to abolish obstacles and legislative rigidity in the labour market, where the minimum wage and employers’ costs are considered too high.

The timing is appropriate: France is still in the process of complying with the Stability and Growth Pact (by bringing French debt below the 3% ceiling), and all eyes are on Macron.

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In this context, on top of reducing expenses, the EU demands easing of French rules, as stated in this text of the last European semester.

The number of employees and ensuing negotiations thresholds (specific protocols to follow for enterprises with fewer than 10 and 50 employees, respectively) were included in the latest recommendations of the Commission.

Direct line between Macron and Juncker

Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker has been in close contact with Emmanuel Macron. “It is a step in the right direction. We welcome and support this labour market reform,” a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV.fr.

“This reform bears the mark of European responsibility” of the French president, he added.

A European commitment equally praised by Pierre Gattaz during a summit of French employers on August 30.

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