French PM defends labour reforms as 'ambitious, balanced, fair'

Paris (AFP) –


French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Thursday presented labour market reforms which he called "ambitious, balanced and fair" but that met with mixed reaction from trade unions.

The measures curb the role of trade unions in small companies, limit unfair dismissal pay-outs and allow bosses to negotiate more working terms and conditions directly with their employees.

The head of the country's biggest private sector union CFDT, Laurent Berger, said he was "disappointed" by the reform overall, a pre-election promise by new President Emmanuel Macron.

The boss of the hard-left Force Ouvriere (FO) union, Jean-Claude Mailly, said he disagreed with some of the changes, but like Berger suggested he would not recommend his members join street protests.

"A debate will take place in public now," he said. "Fortunately we've done our union work."

"There are differences. We accept them," Philippe said, presenting the reforms which formed the basis of three months of negotiations with the unions.

The Communist-backed CGT has already called for a strike and demonstrations against the reform on September 12.

Thursday's reforms come at a pivotal moment for Macron's domestic agenda as he seeks to encourage entrepreneurship in France, where the unemployment rate of 9.5 percent is almost double that of its large European rivals.

He argues the measures are needed to introduce greater flexibility in France's rigid labour law to encourage hiring.

"We are the only major economy in the European Union that has not defeated mass unemployment for more than three decades," he told Le Point magazine in an interview published late on Wednesday.