Workplace Reforms

Tough Talk in French Labor Dispute

Riot police officers clash with protestors during a demonstration held as part of nationwide labor actions in Paris, France, Thursday, May 26, 2016. French protesters scuffled with police, dock workers set off smoke bombs and union activists disrupted fuel supplies and nuclear plants Thursday in the biggest challenge yet to President Francois Hollande's government as it tries to give employers more flexibility (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Riot police officers clash with protestors during a demonstration over labor reforms.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    France’s labor laws are among the tightest in Europe and the government believes that without reform the country’s economy will continue to stagnate.

  • Facts


    • France has been crippled by strikes and protests over proposed labor reforms days before it hosts the Euro 2016 soccer tournament.
    • French Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri says her government will not back down even if the industrial action goes on.
    • The government wants to make hiring and firing easier for firms by allowing company-level labor agreements.
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Tires and police cars in flames, bridges and fuel depots blockaded, rail and airline staff on strike, ministers being attacked on the street: France is in chaos, locked in a fundamental struggle over its economic future just as it’s gearing up to host the month-long European soccer championship, Euro 2016, from Friday.

Past French governments ended up backing down when confronted with mass demonstrations against reforms. So has President Francois Hollande in the past. But this time he looks determined to push through his plan to reform the labor market and reduce the high unemployment dogging the euro zone’s second-largest economy.

In an exclusive interview with Handelsblatt, the French labor minister, Myriam El Khomri, said her government would stick to the planned labor law and was committed to instilling a “culture of compromise” in France of the kind that she had witnessed in Germany during the refugee crisis.

Her government plans to make hiring and firing easier for firms by allowing company-level labor agreements that would take precedence over industry-wide deals. The reforms are aimed at liberalizing France’s tightly regulated labor market, including extending working hours in a country that still has a 35-hour working week.

In doing so, Mr. Hollande has thrown down the gauntlet to trade unions and enraged the left wing of his Socialist Party.

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