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Trade unions hit the streets of French cities to protest President Emmanuel Macron’s new labour laws

The government’s new measures arm companies with more flexibility to set pay and working conditions.

Around four lakh trade union members took to the streets of French cities on Tuesday to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s new labour laws. Led by Communist Party-linked CGT union, Paris alone saw over 24,000 protestors demanding a rollback of the new reforms, which give more freedom to companies to hire and fire employees.

Rallies were held in Marseille, Perpignan and Nice in the south, Bordeaux in the west and Le Havre and Caen in the north. Scuffles between protestors and the police were reported in Lyon and Paris. The Interior Ministry said 13 people were arrested across the country, the BBC reported.

Armed with placards that read ‘Slacker on Strike’ and ‘Macron, you’re screwed, the slackers are in the streets’, the agitators mocked the president for a comment he made in Greece. During a trip to Athens on September 8, Macron had said, “I am fully determined and I won’t cede any ground, not to slackers, nor cynics, nor hardliners.”

CGT union leader Philippe Martinez said Tuesday’s protests were the “first phase” and more would follow. “The president should listen to the people and understand them, rather than cause divisions,” he said.

However, the protests did not have much impact on production. Two other big trade unions – the CFDT and Force Ouvrière – refused to join the agitation, indicating that they may back Macron. A spokesperson for state-run utility firm EDF, which operates 48 nuclear reactors, said that only 11% of the workforce took part in the strike. Similarly, an official of oil major Total said the power sector did suffer much loss.

In August, Macron’s government had introduced measures that offers more flexibility to firms to set pay and working conditions. The reforms also cap the damages paid to workers for unfair dismissal. The new measures are likely to be adopted by a decree on September 22.

The current labour code in France limits work to 35 hours a week. Companies have been complaining that it has deterred investment and job creation and stalled economic growth. Unemployment in the country has been over 9% for almost a decade, according to Reuters. After winning the election, Macron had pledged to lower unemployment to 7% by 2022.

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