French government scales back labour reform bill

Makes concessions to trade unions following protests

PARIS (Reuters) — French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Monday unveiled a revised labour reform bill that makes concessions to trade unions following mass protests against the measures.

Tens of thousands of students and trade unionists rallied across the country last week against the government's labour reform plans, which put almost all aspects of France's strictly codified labour rules up for negotiation.

In the revised version, the government will no longer impose a cap on severance pay for dismissed workers, a measure many companies argued would have helped reduce the uncertainty of going through the industrial court system. Instead, the new limits will be introduced as non-binding guidelines.

"I want a new start for this bill," Valls told union officials. "To reform is a demanding process. It's about proposing, discussing and listening."

The government and business leaders said the reforms would have encouraged companies to take on more workerson permanent contracts rather than temporary ones, helping bring down an unemployment rate stuck above 10 per cent.

But the government came under increased pressure from Socialist lawmakers, concerned about how they will fare in the 2017 parliamentary election, and became wary of the burgeoning discontent among students, traditionally at the forefront of the largest protest movements.

Despite Monday's concessions, the CGT and FO unions said they wanted the government to scrap the bill completely, suggesting Valls and President Francois Hollande may face further protests in the coming weeks.

The retreat is unlikely to help France improve its reputation in Brussels, as its European Union partners had given Paris more time to reduce its budget deficit in exchange for structural reforms including to its labour market.

In the revised plan, the government will also give industrial courts more latitude than originally planned to assess the health of a company trying to lay off workers.

Currently magistrates can block job cuts if they find that a company's other affiliates are profitable. The government wanted to limit the scope to a single location, but has now expanded that to include all of the company's activities in France.

The new plan also increases the right of unskilled workers to training and gives more financial aid to young people.

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