France's Valls meets youth leaders over contested labor reform

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 11, 2016 3:42 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was to meet student and youth leaders on Monday in an attempt to defuse opposition to proposed labor reforms that have triggered public demonstrations and a nocturnal protest movement in several cities.

The labor bill seeks to introduce new flexibility in areas such as working time and industrial tribunal payouts, as part of reforms designed to make good on promises by President Francois Hollande to bring down an unemployment rate that has failed to drop below 10 percent.

Ahead of Monday's talks at the prime minister's Matignon office, the government indicated it would consider calls by students' union UNEF to increase financial support and paid training programs for young jobseekers.

A sixth day of public demonstrators on Saturday saw numbers dwindle from their March 31 peak, but clashes broke out between police and masked youths on the sidelines of processions and an all-night protest gathering in Paris.

The "Nuit Debout" ("Up All Night") movement has drawn thousands of young mainly left-wing voters keen to vent their frustration with the Socialist government of Hollande, the least popular serving president in modern French history. Similar events have been held in Toulouse, Lyon and Nantes.

In response to the protests, lawmakers have already watered down the bill, notably by changing an initially proposed cap on industrial tribunal payouts to a non-binding guideline, and requiring small businesses to involve unions in any deals negotiated locally with staff representatives.

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The main French employers' organization, Medef, voiced dissatisfaction at the concessions.

"The competitiveness of small businesses has been forgotten," Medef head Pierre Gattaz told Monday's edition of daily Le Figaro. "We're a long way from the original ambition to simplify the labor law - this version is a monument to complexity."

(Reporting by Laurence Frost; editing by John Stonestreet)