French government imposes new labor law without a vote

For the third time since May, France’s President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls have refused to allow Parliament to vote on a bill that weakens the country’s labor standards.

Instead, Valls on July 20 invoked Article 49.3 of France’s Constitution, which allows the government to enact legislation without a vote of Parliament.

Valls and Hollande chose to bypass a vote on the new labor bill because they could not garner sufficient support for the measure among members of their own party–the Socialist party.

The bill has now been pushed through the National Assembly and Senate three times without a vote and will become law unless France’s constitutional court agrees to review and reject it.

Unions opposing the bill have said that they plan to renew protests against the new law in September and condemned the government’s disregard for democracy.

CGT, the labor confederation that led strikes and demonstrations against the bill and conducted a citizens referendum on the bill, said in a statement that “Poll after poll, shows popular opposition to this regressive legislation. . . .The latest, the Odoxa FTI poll published July 18, noted that 7 out of 10 French are ‘dissatisfied with the final adoption of the labor bill’ and more than half of them ‘would like the protests against the text continues.'”

 “From the beginning, the government has continued to ignore the real needs and expectations of wage earners and more generally the public interests,” continued CGT’s statement. “Instead the government has provided corporations and their owners new freedoms and new protections.”

Hollande’s new law makes it easier to fire workers, promotes the use of temporary labor, erodes the country’s 35-hour work week, reduces overtime pay, and gives bosses more control over their workers’ time, including time away from work.

Most important, the new law aims to weaken workers’ bargaining power by expanding company level bargaining.

In France, industry level collective bargaining agreements between unions and employer organizations with some exceptions set wages and working conditions.

Industry level bargaining prevents companies from seeking a competitive advantage by cutting labor costs.

The new law eliminates most restrictions on company level bargaining, which unions fear will create a race to the bottom as companies seek local deals that will lower pay and working conditions below industry standards.

President Hollande argues that his new labor law is needed to combat France’s high unemployment rate, which hovers around 10.5 percent.

There may be other reasons for the new law.

According to Corporate Europe Observatory, the European Council, the body that “defines the European Union’s political direction and priorities” is pressuring France to change its labor laws.

“The current struggle in France over labor law reforms is not just between the government and trade unions – a European battle is being waged. The attacks on social rights stem in no small part from the web of EU-rules dubbed ‘economic governance’, invented to impose austerity policies on member states,” reads the opening paragraph of the Observatory’s analysis of the fight over the new labor law.

The analysis goes on to argue that the Council has threatened to impose fines on France unless it takes steps to lower its budget deficit by imposing austerity measures such as the new labor law.

The argument against France’s current labor law is that it is obsolete, cumbersome, and too complicated which serves as a drag on the economy.

Opponents of the government’s new law agree that the labor law should be modernized, but not by making work more precarious, lowering wages, and weakening protections designed to enhance workers’ quality of life.

CGT said that it would continued to fight implementation of the new law and at the same time called on the government to engage in a dialogue with the new law’s opponents in order to agree on changes to the labor law that will modernize it without weakening protections in it.

This government has not listened to us, said the CGT in its statement, but we will continue to fight “this regressive reform and to replace it with . . . a labor code of the XXI century.”

“The government has lost the ideological battle,” said the CGT statement referring to the lack of public support for its new law. . . . “Our responsibility is to continue to build solidarity, organize, and mobilize to force an end to social regression and to gain new rights.”

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