French unions, government to discuss Labour reforms

The French government and the country's main union refused to budge Thursday in a power struggle over labour reforms, ahead of talks to end months of strikes and violent protests.


The leader of the powerful CGT union, Philippe Martinez, who has been spearheading resistance to the reforms, is set to meet with Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri on Friday for the first time since protests against the legislation kicked off three months ago.

The stakes are high for the talks, which come just days after the latest protest against the reforms -- named after El Khomri -- descended into violence in Paris, leaving 40 people injured.

France has also been hit by months of strikes that have led to long queues for fuel, rubbish piling up on sidewalks, and train and plane delays.

But even before the talks get under way, both sides appeared unyielding.

Entrenched positions

Martinez demanded that the government suspend debate on the labour law, which is currently before the upper house Senate after the government forced it through the lower house without a vote -- further enraging the union.

Martinez "is asking for the suspension of the parliamentary debate and the withdrawal of the five most important articles of this law, which is obviously unacceptable," El Khomri said.

However she said she was open to listening to the union leader's "proposals" as to how to end the impasse.

President Francois Hollande's Socialist government is trying to push through the labour market reforms in a bid to tackle France's 10 percent unemployment rate.

More protests

However critics see the reforms as skewed towards business interests, and argue that greater flexibility for employers will erode their iron-clad job security.

The government has already watered down the reforms, to the satisfaction of reform-minded unions, while more radical leftist unions have dug their heels in.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has vowed to stand firm on the labour reforms.

"The government will not change a text which is already the outcome of a compromise sealed several months ago with reform-minded unions," Valls told French radio on Wednesday.

He also accused the CGT of having an "ambiguous attitude" to those who carried out violent acts during Tuesday's protest.

Paris police chief Michel Cadot said that despite the presence of some 1,500 paramilitary officers and 1,000 police, some 20 shops, 13 signboards, the facades of eight banks, eight bus stops and a dozen public buildings -- including a children's hospital -- were damaged in the protest.

Police unions contested Cadot's figures of 28 police wounded, saying they had reports that between 100 and 200 officers had been injured.

Hollande has threatened to ban demonstrations, which have come as the country's overstretched security forces are juggling the demands of the Euro football championship and heightened terror fears.

The CGT has already planned more protests for June 23 and 28.