Workers protest
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Four months after their new president was elected, French workers have held a day of protests against changes to France’s strict labor market. The hard-left CGT union has called for workers to stage walk-outs.

France’s largest union CGT on Monday launched demonstrations across the country to protest plans by French President Emmanuel Macron to reform the labour market.

CGT leader Philippe Martinez has branded Macron’s proposed reforms as a “social coup d’etat.” Other unions have signaled a willingness to compromise, including the Force Ouvriere (FO) union, although some of its branches are planning to join the strike.

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The CGT union said more than 180 street protests are planned nationwide and some 4,000 strikes have been called. But it remained to be seen if the CGT action would mean a repeat of the disruptive demonstrations that rocked France for months last year.

Macron, who was elected in May on a ticket to tackle red tape and high costs associated with hiring and firing staff, has vowed to go ahead with the shake-up, despite a backlash that has seen his popularity plummet in recent weeks.

The 39-year-old centrist has fast-tracked the reforms using presidential executive orders. The proposals, which include a cap on payouts for dismissals and give greater freedom for companies to set pay and working conditions, is scheduled to come into effect on September 22.

Seeking to split the labour movement, Macron last week described opponents of his reforms as “slackers” and cynics – comments that union representatives called “scandalous.”

But while the CGT has called its members out – including those from the transport, oil and power sectors – several other unions say they are prepared to compromise in an attempt to help kick start the French economy. The country’s stubbornly-high unemployment rate at 9.5 percent is roughly twice that of Germany and Britain.

Until now the current strict labour code has been staunchly protected by workers and their unions despite attempts by successive governments to introduce reforms that have already taken place in many other European countries.

In Paris, the transport disruption is set to be limited to two commuter train lines. Dozens of flights have already been canceled in anticipation that air traffic controllers will walk off the job.

Tuesday’s strikes will even bring funfair workers out onto the streets – with operators planning to don clown costumes and block traffic in Paris and elsewhere.

Two other protest days are planned for later this month.

Source: mm/jm (AFP, Reuters)

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