French unions lead labor law protest before meeting PM

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 28, 2016 6:39 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - French riot police deployed in Paris on Tuesday as unions rallied supporters ahead of another street protest against government plans to ease protective labor laws.

The march is the latest in President Francois Hollande's four-month confrontation with the unions which has divided the governing Socialists and dragged the unpopular leader's ratings down to new lows 10 months before a presidential election.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls will meet leaders of the hardline CGT and Force Ouvriere (FO) unions on Wednesday. They say it is time the government listened to their demands that core elements of the labor bill the proposes making it easier to hire and fire workers be scrapped.

The Socialist government says the reforms are key to hauling down an unemployment rate stuck at about 10 percent, attracting new investment and spurring growth.

"If the government is not going to give ground it will be a meeting for nothing," said FO leader Jean-Claude Mailly.

"There's no point in inviting us to meet if it's just to tell is 'get on your way, nothing's going to change'."

The government came under fire after it banned a march last Thursday, citing security risks, and then said the demonstration could go ahead along a revised route.

Tuesday's protest starts at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT) and takes a route prohibited last week, when protesters were limited to a far more restricted space for a demonstration that took place without major violence.

About 2,500 riot police will deploy in an operation to avert the violence that has erupted at some earlier protests, often involving masked youths on the fringes of crowds. Metal fences were erected along the planned route and anyone attempting to shield their faces with clothing or bring in weapons will be arrested on the spot, police said.

The government appears keen to quell tensions with the unions leading the protests which appear to be running out of steam even if French voters still broadly oppose the reforms to liberalize some of the strictest labor laws in the euro zone.

Among the most contentious clauses is Article 2 of the bill which hands companies more power to negotiate pay and working conditions and could weaken the influence of trade unions in the work place.

The government has flatly refused a major re-write of the bill and officials at Valls' office said that position had not changed ahead of this week's meeting.

(Reporting By Brian Love and Emmanuel Jarry; Editing by Richard Lough and Richard Balmforth)