France’s government is proposing a far-reaching set of labor law reforms. Set to be formally unveiled at a cabinet meeting next month, a leaked proposal is already rankling members of the ruling Socialist Party and the nation’s powerful union movement.
The reforms would give employers more power to negotiate over bread-and-butter labor issues like work hours and overtime pay, make it easier for companies to fire workers and put new caps on the amount of compensatory damages that can be awarded by labor courts, according to Le Monde.
But in a country known for its generous social safety net and worker protections, unions and their allies are vowing to wage war against the bill. Officially, France has a 35 hour work week, but the law is already riddled with exemptions. Critics say the latest proposal would effectively render that standard obsolete and worsen economic conditions overall.
“This text offers total liberty to the bosses, but constitutes a historic setback for workers’ rights,” France’s largest labor confederation said in a statement. “It’s based on the idea that social protections for workers are the cause of unemployment. Since when has deregulation led to employment?”
The proposal has also drawn criticism from within the ranks of the ruling Socialists—adding to a list of clashes between left-wing party members and the Hollande government. The head of the Socialist Party, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, has said he opposes labor law reform in its current form and called Tuesday on the government to negotiate.
In a speech on Monday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls pushed back against the nay-sayers.
“There are some who are still in the 19th century, we [the government] are in the 21st century and we know that the economy and social progress go together,” Valls said. “This is a message to the 3.5 million unemployed people of our country to tell them we won’t accept fate. No. Everything must be tried and we’ll never give up.”
Meanwhile, the general secretary of one major union, Force Ouvriere, has said the government’s proposals are "worth striking over" in the public and private sectors.