France inconsistent on liberalising labour markets

The French government has taken a bold step towards a limited liberalisation of French labour regulation, with the usual and immediate consequence of street protests around the country.

France has an unemployment rate of 10.5% and a youth unemployment rate of 24%.

The government wants to free up the labour market to encourage firms to take on more staff.

Yesterday, the French cabinet used special powers to force through the reforms without reference to the National Assembly, which would have blocked them.

The changes include:

●  the much cherished 35 hour week becomes an average only – firms would be free to negotiate with local trade unions more or fewer hours week by week up to a maximum of 46 hours:
●  making it easier to remove staff;
●  more freedom for the employer to negotiate holiday and special leave arrangements;
●  more freedom for the employer to reduce pay.

However, the French government’s approach is inconsistent. While liberalising on the one hand it is restricting on the other.

The government also intends to bring in new rules to protect workers from having to deal with emails outside office hours. Employers with more than 50 staff would need to have a charter setting out clearly when employees should not send or deal with emails, usually outside their working hours. The intension is to give employees the ‘right to disconnect’ to prevent the growing social problem of ‘permanent connection’.

Government attempts to reform workers’ rights have often failed at the barricades in the past. We must now wait to see if, this time, the changes will stick.