French PM postpones labour reform plan after party rebellion

Bill to make it easier for employers to shed workers, negotiate maximum working hours, holidays and pay
||Last Updated: 02/29/2016

PARIS (Reuters) — France's government will present unpopular labour reforms two weeks later than planned, giving the first sign that it is prepared to water down its plans following strong pressure from unions and within the governing Socialist party.

The reform, which would put almost all aspects of the country's strictly codified labour relations up for negotiation between employers and unions, has widened divisions in a party that is already split over how to tackle the threat of Islamist militancy and run the campaign for 2017 presidential elections.

"We must clarify a number of misunderstandings," Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Monday. "Let's give ourselves a few more days to discuss this more in depth, correct what needs to be corrected."

A source close to the premier said the government would seek a compromise with reformist unions such as the CFDT - France's second biggest - rather than hardline ones.

The government previously hinted it might use an executive decree to push the plan through parliament without a vote to bypass opposition, as it did last year with moves to open up closed professions.

Valls' more conciliatory comments followed pressure from Socialist party veterans including former party head Martine Aubry, who last week accused the government of betraying left-wing values.

The draft, which marks Hollande's most far-reaching attempt yet to make good on a promise to tackle a stubbornly high unemployment rate, had been heavily criticised by unions and praised by employers' groups.

The bill is intended to make it easier for employers to shed workers and negotiate everything from maximum working hours to holidays and pay on rest breaks. Adoption in cabinet of the draft labour bill, initially scheduled for March 9, would be postponed to March 24, Valls said.

"Postponing the bill is a first victory. Now what needs to change is its philosophy and how it's drawn up," rebel Socialist MP and former culture minister Aurelie Filippetti said on Twitter.

But conservative lawmaker Christian Estrosi said on his Twitter feed: "The government and Hollande are yet again rowing back and showing a lack of courage."

Valls said the later presentation in cabinet did not mean the bill's adoption in parliament would be delayed, with the government still aiming for a final adoption before parliament recesses in July.

The source close to Valls said that, while the bill would retain a proposed cap on the amount of compensation labour courts can award as well as a more precise definition of what constitutes dismissal for economic reasons, "the goalposts can be moved".

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