French government faces no-confidence vote over labour reform

Paris (AFP) –


France's already unpopular Socialist government faces a no-confidence vote Thursday after it bypassed parliament and forced through a labour reform bill that has led to two months of demonstrations.

The government said Tuesday it would resort to the controversial move in the face of fierce opposition from within President Francois Hollande's own party that was set to lead to the bill being defeated in parliament.

Opponents need 288 votes to bring down the government, which is considered an unlikely prospect because left-wing rebels and extreme-right lawmakers have said they will refuse to join forces with parties on the right.

Its critics say the bill is heavily weighted in favour of employers, but a defiant Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the reform must go ahead "because the country must move forward and because salary negotiations and workers' rights must progress."

Unions have called for more demonstrations on Thursday to coincide with the vote of no confidence.

The government argues the reform will give companies more flexibility to fight endemic unemployment, which stands at more than 10 percent -- joblessness has been the defining issue of Hollande's four years in power.

- 'France in impasse' -

But while the right believes the reform fails to go far enough, unions and student groups say it will only serve to erode job security.

The right, which has a minority in the National Assembly, or lower house, says Hollande has led the country into an "impasse".

Left-wing critics failed by just two votes to bring their own vote of no confidence.

Valls remains confident and said he had "no fear" that the government would be brought down.

The standoff over the labour reform is just the latest headache for Hollande since he was forced to abandon his attempts at changing the constitution in the wake of the November 13 terror attacks on Paris.

In a sign of the government's nervousness on the labour reform issue, it has made a significant U-turn on one of the most controversial measures. Companies which want to lay off staff will not be able to solely use losses in France to justify such a move.

Unions fear that companies with profitable international operations will "cook the books" to make it look as if a loss is being made in their French units in order to make redundancies.

All of this comes less than a year from the 2017 presidential election.

Hollande, facing some of the lowest popularity scores of any left-wing French president, has said he will decide by the end of the year whether to stand for re-election.