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French government, hardline union fail to break impasse

2 min

Paris (AFP)

Talks between France's labour minister and the head of the country's main union Friday failed to break a deadlock over labour market reforms which have led to months of anti-government protests.

The two sides "did not find consensus," Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri said after meeting for an hour and a half with hardline CGT secretary general Philippe Martinez who has spearheaded the protests.

"There are points of disagreement between the CGT and the government on basic things," Martinez said, for his part. "These disagreements were confirmed today."

The head of the powerful union reiterated its demand that several key articles of the bill be withdrawn or "rewritten".

El Khomri said the text bearing her name could be "enriched" but "without undermining its purpose."

The Socialist government's reform is aimed at tackling France's entrenched 10-percent unemployment rate and widespread job insecurity.

But critics say the legislation will fail to reduce joblessness, is too pro-business and threatens cherished workers' rights.

Notably, the measures would make hiring and firing easier.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets on Tuesday for the latest protests against the bill, descending into the worst violence since the wave of demonstrations and strikes began in March.

The unrest in Paris, which left 40 injured, prompted the government to threaten a ban on demonstrations, while the CGT faulted security forces for failing to quell the violence.

Ten protesters were on Friday given prison terms ranging from four months behind bars to six-month suspended sentences.

Martinez repeated a demand for the Senate to suspend debate on the bill in order to allow new negotiations to take place.

The opposition-dominated Senate opened debate Monday on the bill, which bypassed the lower house last month when the government used a constitutional tool to push it through without a vote.

The senators, who are expected to push for changes more favourable to employers, will wrap up their debate on June 24, with a vote set for four days later.

The unions have already called new protests for June 23 and 28, and Martinez said Friday he had "no reason" to cancel them.

If the two houses of parliament fail to agree on the legislation, the lower house will have the final say -- and Prime Minister Manuel Valls could again use the constitutional manoeuvre to ram the bill through.

President Francois Hollande, who faces a re-election bid next April, had hoped for a signature reform to reverse his approval ratings, which are among the worst of a modern French leader.

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