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French labour reform talks struggling

11 January 2013

After two days of talks, French employers and unions still seemed far away from agreeing on changes to the country’s labour laws, to make it more competitive. France’s Socialist President Francois Hollande has warned he will press ahead with labour reform legislation soon, regardless of whether they reach a deal. The bosses did offer some concessions at the talks including raising welfare charges on short-term job contracts, but the negotiator for one of the hard-line unions did not sound optimistic. Stephane Lardy of Force Ouvrière union said: “What they’re offering, unfortunately, is a lot of flexibility, and less job security, even as you have a catastrophic economic and social situation in this country. So we feel a bit like we’re not all on the same planet.” The CGT union has also said it would not sign any deal in favour of de-regulation. And even the moderate CFDT and CFTC unions remain opposed to the creation of new long-term job contracts that incorporate periods of lower pay and shorter working hours. Many French employers say they don’t hire because if business takes a downturn it is too difficult and expensive to lay off workers. Some even moved overseas because of that, though ski-maker Rossignol has brought much of its production back from Taiwan, saying competitiveness has improved in France. The problem for Hollande is that without support from unions and employers, any law he tried to push through could face street protests and the unions would pressure left-wing lawmakers to water it down.