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French PM Valls announces new labour reforms

The French labour code is more than 3,000 pages long
The French labour code is more than 3,000 pages long AFP

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced a new set of labour reforms on Wednesday aimed at simplifying the country's complex labour laws.

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Draft legislation will be proposed by the end of the year and should be adopted by the summer of 2016, Manuel Valls said at a press conference.

The announcement came just hours after the prime minister received a report commissioned from top civil servant Jean-Denis Combrexelle, outlining 44 proposals for simplifying France's complex labour code.

The document recommends creating more space for direct agreements between companies and workers, and urges the government to curb the role of the state on labour rules.

It also advises leaving more room for collective negotiation surrounding working conditions, working hours, employment and salaries.

Although the government has repeatedly stated that it does not plan to abolish France's 35-hour workweek, the report envisages opening up the threshold for paid overtime to negotiation.

But Manuel Valls said Wednesday that the new laws will not encroach on the country's legal workweek.

The prime minister will however seek to open up the labour rules to more in-company negotiation, and confirmed that any agreement will have to be signed by unions representing at least 50 per cent of the workforce, as opposed to the current minimum of 30 per cent.

"Our principle is more flexibility, not less protection", he said, adding that France's work code had become "too complicated, and at times unreadable."

France's largest employer federation, the Medef, has welcomed the planned legislation, and several trade unions have said that they are not opposed to the reform, as long as it offers more efficient protection to employees.

But the General Confederation of Labour has criticised the upheaval, saying that negotiations in companies "must increase guarantees for the workers, and not trample them". 

At a press conference on Monday, President François Hollande announced a series of reforms within the next few months "to adapt labour regulations to the reality of companies."

The revamp is expected to be the last major social reform of President Hollande's five-year mandate, before the next election in 2017.

The government hopes to curb France's high rate of unemployment, which currently stands at 10 per cent.

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