French prime minister to reform labour laws by decree

Unpopular changes to be forced through parliament in move that could sink government

A demonstrator holds a board reading  “The temperature rises” during a protest in front of the National Assembly in Paris: Prime minister Manuel   Valls pleaded with a socialist group meeting before asking the cabinet to authorise use of article 49.3 of the constitution. Photograph: Christophe Ena/AP

A demonstrator holds a board reading “The temperature rises” during a protest in front of the National Assembly in Paris: Prime minister Manuel Valls pleaded with a socialist group meeting before asking the cabinet to authorise use of article 49.3 of the constitution. Photograph: Christophe Ena/AP

 

Prime minister Manuel Valls has chosen to reform France’s labour code by decree, forcing unpopular changes through the lower house of parliament without a vote. The procedure could bring down the Valls government and precipitate legislative elections, which were not due until after the May 2017 presidential election.

Right-wing deputies filed a motion of censure, which will be debated and voted upon tomorrow. Left-wing frondeurs (rebels) who refused to support the socialist majority will decide today whether to file their own motion, or support the right’s proposal.

“Today, I express and we clearly express a revolt against division,” Mr Valls said, referring to the frondeurs. “To continue the parliamentary debate risks sacrificing the ambition of the draft law, of abandoning its coherence . . . and offering the sorry spectacle of politicking and division,” Mr Valls added.

Intellectually honest

Myriam El Khomri

“You have to be intellectually honest!” Mr Valls pleaded with a socialist group meeting before asking the cabinet to authorise use of article 49.3 of the constitution. “You cannot say the government has not sought compromise.”

The original text would have limited damages paid to sacked employees. That measure was deleted weeks ago, in the hope of calming opposition. Two of the most controversial measures were also cut from the final compromise drawn up by the socialist deputy Christophe Sirugue.

Contrary to the government’s wishes, the “perimeter of appreciation” which determines whether a company may fire employees on economic grounds will remain the company’s worldwide performance, not its earnings in France.

Short-term contracts

More than a third of the 5,000 proposed amendments concerned article 2, described as its “nuclear heart”. Article 2 specifies that agreements within a company take precedence over broader accords with labour unions. It is the only major issue on which the government stood firm.

The right called the use of article 49.3 “a fiasco” and “the last nail in the coffin” of François Hollande’s presidency. When he was socialist party leader in 2006, Mr Hollande called the right’s use of article 49.3 “a brutality . . . a denial of democracy . . . a way of braking or preventing parliamentary debate”.

Hundreds of people from the Nuit debout (Up all night) movement, which was born in opposition to the El Khomri law, blocked traffic and confronted riot police in front of the National Assembly yesterday. Their slogans included “Liberate parliament” and “Hollande resign”. The motion of censure will coincide with the fifth day of strikes and demonstrations against the law.