French parliament officially adopts controversial labour law

French Parliament

French Parliament

France’s parliament on Thursday finally adopted a deeply divisive labour law after the government used a special measure to force it through parliament without a vote.

The law – which weakens union powers, makes layoffs easier and extends the work week – was passed Thursday after a 24-hour period passed without any party deposing a motion of censure.

On Wednesday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls resorted to a controversial measure known as the “49-3”, which allows the government to sidestep a parliamentary debate and a vote on proposed legislation, for a third time in order to transform the bill into law.

President François Hollande and Valls have championed the labour reforms as a way to boost business confidence and employment figures in France. But the government had to contend with months of public demonstrations that saw trade unions and student groups organising demonstrations and protests that often ended in violent clashes with the police.

Speaking to parliament on Wednesday, Valls described the bill as a “progressive” text that was “necessary for the future of the country”.

Opponents however insist the labour reforms whittle away workers’ rights by allowing employers to lay off workers more easily and to negotiate job conditions directly with staff instead of through unions.

By giving precedence to negotiations at the branch and company level, the new law lengthens employees’ work weeks and modifies overtime wages.

Critics from the left and rightProtests nearly brought the country to a standstill this spring as union members blocked petrol refineries and depots, with train conductors and airline pilots joining nationwide strikes.

The use of the 49-3 measure in two previous instances and the government’s threat to ban union protests sparked accusations that the government was also trampling on democracy.

France’s Socialist government watered down the original version of the bill, but not enough to win over hard-line unions and even many within the Socialist Party’s own ranks.

But by making concessions to the original bill, it also lost the support from right-wing MPs, who accused the government of not taking reforms far enough.

“This bill is, and will forever remain, stained by its antidemocratic character,” the Force Ouvrière union fumed in a statement on Wednesday.

The widely expected move by Valls left lawmakers in the lower house National Assembly little chance of derailing the reform before its final adoption.

Unions have vowed to launch a fresh day of strikes on September 15.