President Emmanuel Macron’s government has begun its drive to overhaul France’s rigid labour laws, vowing to “free up the energy of the workforce”.
The reforms aim to make it easier for bosses to hire and fire.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said they were ambitious, balanced and fair but it was natural that not everyone would support the changes.
Protests against the plan are expected next month, but two of the biggest unions say they will not take part.
Jean-Claude Mailly, the leader of Force Ouvrière (FO), said that while the reforms were far from perfect, the government had carried out “real consultation” and FO would play no role in demonstrations on 12 September.
The union with the biggest presence in the private sector, CFDT, said its members would not take to the streets either, although it was ultimately disappointed that its position was not reflected in the final text.
Further protests are promised on 23 September by far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is expected to spearhead opposition to the reforms.
What does Macron want to do?
France has an unemployment rate of 9.5%, double of the other big European economies and Mr Macron has vowed to cut it to 7% by 2022. France’s labour code is some 3,000 pages long and is seen by many as a straitjacket for business.
Among the biggest reforms, individual firms are to be offered more flexibility in negotiating wages and conditions.
Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud said 36 new measures would be aimed at promoting “social dialogue”. If a business reached a deal with the majority of its workforce on working hours and pay that agreement would trump any agreement in the wider industry.
Over half of French workers are employed by small or medium-sized businesses. The government wants to facilitate deals at local level by encouraging companies with fewer than 50 employees to set up workers’ committees that can bypass unions.
One of the thorniest problems for the government is how to make it easier for companies to dismiss staff. There is to be a cap on damages that can be awarded to workers for unfair dismissal. However, after months of consultations, ministers have agreed to increase the cap from their original proposal.
The cap would be limited to three months’ pay for two years of work and 20 months’ pay for 30 years. Until now the minimum pay-out for two years’ employment was six months of salary.
In contrast, normal severance pay will increase.