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French government asks for special powers to push through labour reform

French Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud leaves after the weekly cabinet meeting
French Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud leaves after the weekly cabinet meeting Reuters/Charles Platiau
Text by: Tony Cross
3 min

The French parliament will discuss handing the government special powers to rush through its promised labour reform next month, the cabinet announced on Wednesday. With left-wingers vowing to fight the changes in parliament and outside, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe insisted that his government has the "political legitimacy" to enact them.


The newly elected parliament is to hold an extraordinary session starting on 4 July to debate the most important pledges made by President Emmanuel Macron during his election campaign.

Top of the list is a proposal to allow changes to France's labour law to be made by ordonnance, a procedure by which parliament hands some of its power to the government, reducing debate on the proposals and speeding the adoption of new laws.

Other questions to be discussed in the extraordinary session include bills on clean government and fighting terrorism.

With Macron's France on the Move (LREM) holding an overall majority in parliament and enjoying the support of ex-justice minister François Bayrou's MoDem, there is little doubt that the measures will be endorsed by the end of the session in August, although the bills will still face further parliamentary debates.

Left leader vows to fight labour reform

But hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the 16 other MPs from his France Unbowed party have vowed to fight the labour reform inside parliament and join union protests against it.

"Our opposition will be total," Mélenchon said on Wednesday, attacking a "strategy of secrecy" on the part of the government, which has revealed details of its proposals in dribs and drabs during talks with unions and employers.

His movement will join a day of protest called by the CGT trade union on 12 September, he said, and will try to mobilise the unemployed, trainees and students against it.

At the cabinet meeting Philippe insisted that the proposed changes have "political legitimacy" thanks to Macron's "clear programme" in the presidential election and his party's majority in the National Assembly, warning that "some people think that the parliamentary battle is a way to make up for what was not won in the elections".

"Putting on a show for the media is never the best way to work in the National Assembly," government spokesman Christophe Castaner commented when reporting on the cabinet meeting.

The unions are concerned at some of Macron's proposals, in particular placing a ceiling on compensation for unfair dismissal and allowing companies to reach agreements on questions like working hours that undercut national agreements.

While the CGT has declared its out-and-out opposition, the leader of another union grouping, Force Ouvrière, told Wednesday's Le Monde newspaper that talks with the government were "going in the right direction" and others are at present suspending judgement.

Labour minister denies trying to hush up scandal

Castaner also appealed to the media not to undermine Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud "because we are at an important point for the labour reform", which she presented to the cabinet on Wednesday morning.

While Bayrou and three other ministers facing legal investigations quit the government in last week's reshuffle, Pénicaud stayed at her post, despite an inquiry into alleged favouritism at Business France, an agency that promotes French businesses abroad, when she was its head.

The investigation concerns a failure to call for bids to organise a trip in January 2016 to Las Vegas by Macron when he was economy minister.

Pénicaud on Wednesday admitted there had been a "procedural error" but indignantly denied claims by Libération newspaper that she had tried to brush the affair under the carpet.

The daily points out that Pénicaud ordered an internal audit in February but failed to act on the findings of an external audit handed to her in July.

The affair did not reach the desk of Macron's successor, Michel Sapin, until December after Business France's financial controller refused to sign his approval for the transation, the paper says.

"It was me who alerted the board, it was me who ordered the audit. What a joke!" Pénicaud responded on RTL radio on Wednesday.

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