France: Unions protest as anti-worker Bill forced through

FRENCH unions staged a last-ditch protest yesterday as the government forced an EU-dictated attack on workers’ rights through a hostile parliament.

“This is a counter-productive law socially and economically,” said CGT member Marie-Jose Kotlicki.

“The government is making a mistake in underestimating the level of discontent over this law,” she said.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls’s government was forced to invoke special constitutional powers to pass the El Khomri Bill after MPs from his own Socialist Party rebelled and voted with the opposition.

“This is sad, compromise was possible,” said Laurent Baumel, one of 30 or more Socialists who opposed the law as a betrayal of left-wing principles. “Valls seems to have refused out of customary intransigence.”

The legislation will undermine collective bargaining by allowing employers to opt out of industry-wide agreements on some matters.

It will also raise the weekly working time limit from 35 hours to 46.

The government used the same mechanism to pass the Bill’s earlier reading in May.

Late last month the government attempted to ban protests as it passed through the Senate, but was forced to relent.

Before the vote, leading Socialist rebel Christian Paul warned Mr Valls that he risked further alienating left-wing voters ahead of next year’s presidential elections if he overrode parliamentary opponents.

“It would be politically devastating,” he said. “I am telling the prime minister there’s a way out. Otherwise things will run off the rails for the government.”

Mr Paul urged the government to add a guarantee that overtime pay rates can never go below an extra 25 per cent.

The major CGT union federation, other unions and student organisations marched through the streets of Paris against the Bill.

In an interview with the communist newspaper l’Humanite, CGT general secretary Philippe Martinez vowed to keep fighting the undemocratic law as “the anger is still there.”

“Public opinion is unfavourable, the trade unions oppose it and their is no majority in the National Assembly for the vote,” he said.

Mr Martinez said that in the coming weeks the CGT would “lead the people” against the law.

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