Macron Defends French Labor Law Revamp in Face of Jobs Emergency

  • Hollande's proposals would gut 35-hour work week, ease firing
  • `The plan for France cannot be to change nothing,' Macron says

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron defended the government’s plans to overhaul the nation’s labor law, rebuffing a revolt from within the ruling Socialist Party by suggesting opponents are resisting all change in the face of an unemployment crisis.

“The plan for France cannot be to change nothing,” Macron said in an interview published Sunday in le Journal du Dimanche. “We cannot say we have tried everything to fight unemployment because it’s not true. We cannot declare a state of emergency on the economy and then do nothing to the labor market.”

President Francois Hollande’s government is considering legislation that would essentially gut the law that limits the French work week to 35 hours. The bill in its latest form includes provisions to allow businesses to increase working times with minimal compensation and without real support of unions, as well as changes to make it easier for companies to shed jobs while limiting severance pay.

While business lobbies have welcomed the changes, workers’ representatives are protesting. Martine Aubry -- mayor of Lille and former government minister who was the architect of the 35-hour workweek -- signed an open letter this week with Socialist lawmakers accusing Hollande of “enduringly weakening France” with his policies.

Macron said in the interview that French labor law is currently unjust because it penalizes the young who don’t have secure jobs. Long-term contracts must be made more flexible because employers currently favor offering short-term positions, even though they’re more expensive, out of fear they won’t be able to end long-term posts, the economy minister said.

“These measures should be taken as an element of the modernization of our economy,” he said. It’s an attempt to “arm companies in the face of brutal changes in the economy and give them the means to negotiate agreements more easily.”

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