February 23, 2018 / 5:30 PM / a year ago

France to flesh out 'big bang' training, unemployment reforms in coming days

PARIS (Reuters) - The French government will in the coming days flesh out reform of professional training and unemployment insurance, Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: French Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud leaves the Elysee Palace following the weekly cabinet meeting in Paris, France, January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The overhaul of training and jobless benefits systems marks the next major reform steps of President Emmanuel Macron who wants to reduce unemployment by the end of his term in 2022.

Changes to the labor code last year to grant companies more freedom to set working conditions sparked muted protests from some trade unions.

The government has promised to take on board some reform suggestions agreed this week between unions and employers, but there is no threat at this point of fresh protests.

The government wants parliament to vote on the new reforms by the summer.

Penicaud said she would first present plans for professional training on Tuesday.

Employers and unions agreed workers should have the right of up to 35 hours of training a year and up to 55 hours for less qualified workers. Workers currently have rights to 24 hours a year.

France currently spends over 30 billion euros ($37 billion) annually on professional training but the system’s vast complexity leaves many companies struggling to find skilled workers.

The government wants to reduce the number of intermediary bodies collecting and dispensing training funds that are currently jointly managed by unions and employers.

Risking the anger of unions loath to cede any influence over how money is spent, Penicaud said the union and employers’ deal did not go far enough and she promised a “big bang” reform.

Macron aims to bring unemployment down from 8.9 percent at the end of last year to 7.0 percent by the next election.

Penicaud, a former head of human resources at Danone, said she would also outline plans in the coming days for unemployment insurance after unions and employers agreed suggestions on Thursday.

“They gave in their conclusions yesterday, I’ll speak about it in several days. I’ll say what we’ll keep and also where we consider more needs to be done,” she told RTL radio.

She said the government wanted in particular measures to discourage the use of short-term labor contracts, a subject over which unions and employers have clashed for years.

Employers and unions agreed in particular that workers could get unemployment benefits when they voluntarily leave a job after seven years to pursue another career track.

The proposal had been one of Macron’s campaign pledges, although he had wanted the right to become available to workers every five to seven years.

Employers and unions currently jointly manage the unemployment benefits system and how much it pays out, and are reluctant to see the state play a bigger role even though it already guarantees the jobless insurance fund.

Reporting by Caroline Pailliez; writing by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Toby Chopra

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