French Labor Bill in Debate as PM Seeks Nod From Unions, Polls

  • Prime Minister Valls to host union representatives Monday
  • `We need to enrich and improve our draft bill,' PM Says

The French government is prepared to make some changes to its plans to reform labor-law in the next two weeks, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said over the weekend, as he prepares to meet with union representatives opposed to the overhaul.

Valls starts a campaign on Monday to win support from France’s biggest unions, after his government’s overhaul of the French labor code was upset by a union backlash that included calls to strike on March 9 and March 31. President Francois Hollande last week pushed back a planned bill that would’ve gutted the law that limits the French work week to 35 hours.

“I am all for dialogue,” Valls told the newspaper Journal du Dimanche. “We need to enrich and improve our draft bill. But the status quo of French labor law would be terrible.”

Seventy percent of French voters are opposed to the bill, according to a survey conducted by Odoxa with 1,021 French people over the age of 18 and published Sunday by Le Parisien. An online petition against the bill gathered more than 1 million signatures, the JDD said.

Labor activists are angered by plans to allow businesses to increase working hours 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.

Hollande, whose popularity is sinking, is trying to stay away from episodes of confrontation that have punctuated more than a decade of France trying to reform its complex labor law, with protesters taking to the streets and paralyzing the country.

Meanwhile executives are pushing the French president for more. The chief executives of carmaker Peugeot SA and tire-maker Michelin & Cie. gave separate interviews over the weekend to say that while they think the current bill is a step in the right direction, it’s not enough.

“French labor code is so incredibly complex, I don’t think this reform would be enough to simplify it,” Michelin CEO Jean-Dominique Senard told a French newspaper. “This change is an important step, but it won’t fix everything.”

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