French trade unions have been given the go-ahead to hold a protest rally in Paris after a u-turn by the government, which had initially outraged labour leaders by denying permission for the march.
Unions are set to lead tens of thousands of protesters in a march through the streets of Paris on Thursday against labour reforms proposed by Francois Hollande’s government. Seven unions in total have asked for permission to stage protest marches.
After an emergency meeting with the government, Philippe Martinez, leader of the CGT union, said in a news conference, "Trade and student unions have obtained the right to protest in Paris on June 23 along a route that has been proposed by the interior minister."
The initial decision to ban the protest was taken after talks broke down between the government and the leaders of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and Force Ouvriere (FO) unions. Left-wing supporters of the unions claim this was the first time a union-backed protest had been banned since the early 1960s.
Many unions have already backed the proposed reforms but the CGT and the FO still oppose it and have great influence among workers in the country.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve had set the stage for a ban this week, saying the rallies had gotten out of hand at a time when riot police were also battling to contain violence by fans during the Euro 2016 football tournament, which is being hosted in the country.
Clashes during the tournament have already resulted in the arrest of 557 people and scores of injuries and damage to property.
The government insisted that a "stationary rally" would be easier to control given the threat of terrorism threat and the amount of police resources being deployed to protect the Euro 2016 tournament.
"After close examination, these alternative proposals address neither the security needs of people and property, nor the demands on police resources given the terrorist threat," a police department statement said.
French unions have been protesting since early March over the reforms. Massive strikes paralyzed Paris in May and violence at recent protests by labor unions led to dozens being injured.
Several politicians from across the political spectrum have condemned the ban and Former president Nicolas Sarkozy called it "unreasonable."
The main recommendation in the proposed reforms makes it easier for companies to negotiate with unions on issues like working conditions or salaries, which they can't do under the current law.
According to the labour reform bill France’s 35-hour week will remain in place, but only as an average. Companies will be able to negotiate with unions to increase or decrease working hours and will also have more leeway in negotiating pay, laying off workers and negotiating holidays and special leave – all of which are heavily regulated at the moment.
The bill is currently before the Senate, which will vote on it next Wednesday.
The unions have also planned protests to coincide with the eve of the vote.