French labour reform demonstrations likely coming to an end

Labour unions signaled their focus will now shift to legal action against application of the law that they claim will hurt the workers.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Protesters take part in a march in Nantes, western France, to demonstrate against the new French labour law, September 15, 2016

Protesters in France on Thursday once again marched against labour reforms that will hurt the workers, but the unions signaled an end to the agitation that has entered into its six month.

France has seen violent protests in recent months during which police used teargas and stun grenades to disperse crowds, while hooded youths hurled bottles, beer cans and on occasion makeshift firebombs in demonstrations against a labour law that will make hiring and firing of workers easier.

A man runs away from tear gas during clashes with French riot police at a march in Nantes, western France, to demonstrate against the new French labour law, September 15, 2016.

However, the head of the Force Ouvriere union indicated that the focus of opposition would now shift to legal challenges against the application of the new law, and that street marches were at an end.

"We are lifting our foot off the pedal for now. We are not going to do this every week," Jean-Claude Mailly told reporters at a rally in Paris's Place de la Bastille square.

Unions say the new law will undermine high standards of labor protection as well as their ability to represent workers, notably in small firms where it will give employers more muscle to strike lower-standard deals on issues such as overtime pay.

Demonstrators march with a banner reading 'No justice, no freedom' during a demonstration against the controversial labour reforms of the French government in Strasbourg, eastern France, on September 15, 2016

Seven months from a presidential election, Mailly said that the unions would not let Socialist President Francois Hollande and his government off the hook.

"This law will be the chewing gum that sticks to the soles of the government's shoes," he told France 2 public television.

Mailly and Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, said they hoped legal challenges would force the withdrawal of the new law. They intend to challenge application decrees that will spell out exactly how the law applies on the ground.

Martinez said the law could be exploited by employers to trim overtime pay from a 25 percent markup to 10 percent.

At their peak, the protests brought close to 400,000 people into the streets last March but turnout has waned over time and was in the low thousands in most cities on Thursday according to early readouts from police.

People take to the streets during a demonstration against the controversial labour reforms of the French government in Paris on September 15, 2016

Police said between 12,500 and 13,500 marched in Paris.

Some 62 people were arrested across the country, the Interior Ministry said. Fifteen gendarmes and police officers were injured, including two who were hospitalized.

The new law, which the government says will help lower a jobless rate stuck close to 10 percent, was forced through parliament in July.

TRTWorld and agencies