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INTERVIEW: France's Macron must be careful on labour reform, FO union says
June 7, 2017 / 3:17 PM / 4 months ago

INTERVIEW: France's Macron must be careful on labour reform, FO union says

French FO labour union leader Jean-Claude Mailly awaits French President Emmanuel Macron (not pictured) for a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Michel Euler/Pool/Files

PARIS (Reuters) - New French President Emmanuel Macron must tread carefully with labour reforms and should not view his election or forecasts of a win in parliamentary elections this month as a blank cheque to push them through, the head of the FO union said on Wednesday.

Macron’s government outlined plans on Tuesday for far-reaching labour reforms to be adopted by the end of the summer, including a controversial cap on dismissal awards and allowing workplace referendums.

Macron has made loosening job market regulations a priority to try to reduce high unemployment, but attempts by previous governments to reform labour laws, most recently last year, have run into sometimes violent protests.

“Right now, people are saying ‘He’s just been elected president, let’s give him a chance’ (in Sunday’s parliamentary elections),” Jean-Claude Mailly, leader of France’s third biggest union, said in an interview with Reuters and a group of European newspapers.

“But there’s real anger in France,” he said.

Macron beat far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the May 7 presidential election run-off and opinion polls say his party is on course to win a commanding majority in this month’s parliamentary election.

But Mailly urged Macron to remember that less than one in four voters backed him in the first round of the presidential election.

“Many voted to block the National Front and not necessarily for his proposals, he must take that into account,” he said.

This applied particularly, Mailly said, to Macron’s pro-business labour reform plans, which will be fast-tracked through use of executive decrees after talks with unions.

PROTEST RALLIES

Mailly said unions could call for protest rallies in September if they were unhappy with the talks with the government.

“Everybody says, and that’s true, that he (Macron) is a seducer and a charmer, but I‘m not fooled by that,” he said.

Mailly, whose union was at the forefront of protests last year against the previous government’s less far-reaching labour reforms, said he was open to discussion but warned that unions had strict demands.

One red line is on Macron’s goal to cap unfair dismissal compensation awards. The government’s argument is that employers need a more predictable framework on the time and cost of disputed dismissals and will be less reluctant to recruit if they have that.

“If the cap is low and judges cannot break away from it then it’s unacceptable. All unions agree on this,” said Mailly.

“If the cap is high and there is a margin of manoeuvre for the judge, we’re willing to talk about it.”

Other red lines for the FO are plans to allow workplace referenda, which Mailly said would not be acceptable if they are meant to bypass unions.

He also said that working documents leaked by daily Liberation, according to which each company could set up its own criteria for firing people were a no-go. The government said this was not an official document.

The head of the CGT, France’s second-largest union, Philippe Martinez said on Monday there would be protests to put pressure on the government. Laurent Berger of CFDT -- France’s largest, pro-reform union -- told CNews TV on Wednesday that the government should work to avoid a series of leaks on the reform.

Reporting by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Adrian Croft

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