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France braces for protest over labor reform

Unions and youth organizations in France have called for a day of protest against the government's push to overhaul the labor market. The scheduled demonstrations coincide with a long-distance rail strike.

Train services were delayed in Paris on Wednesday, ahead of the expected protest marches across the country.

Students and labor unions called for nation-wide demonstrations against government's move to give employers more flexibility in hiring and firing. Some 144 marches and protests are scheduled nationwide, according to France's biggest union CGT.

The protests fall on the same day as a strike by railway workers, who are demanding higher wages. Wednesday's walkout was expected to delay some suburban and long-distance transport, but not local trains.

Internship hunters

The labor reform initiative aims to change the rules on overtime compensation, holiday pay, the cost of firing workers, and numerous other regulations. Notably, the proposal by Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri aims to loosen up France's strict 35-hour work week, considered a cornerstone of the left.

Frankreich Streik Bahngesellschaft SNCF

Officials say train queues in Paris are longer than usual

According to the government, the new law would help young people find a steady job and reduce unemployment, which is hovering around 10 percent. Employers are currently hesitant to offer permanent contracts, prompting young people to do temporary work or focus on internships.

However, young people are among the loudest critics of the proposed bill, with even high school pupils expected to take part in the Wednesday rallies.

'Look outside of France'

The deeply unpopular proposal even split ranks in the ruling center-left Socialist party, with some high-profile members accusing President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls of shifting to the right.

Other politicians, such as Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron - brought in mid-term by Hollande and charged with modernizing French business practices - claim that the current labor laws are behind the times.

"Have we tried everything? Let us look outside France. What has happened elsewhere? They have all evolved, they have all done things," Macron said.

France's unemployment rate had not dropped below 7 percent in 30 years, he added.

Hollande looking ahead

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has already postponed the presentation of the labor reforms by two weeks, signaling that the proposal may yet be watered down. In addition, authorities are still holding talks with unions on the issue.

The French government is also struggling with low approval ratings 14 months ahead of the scheduled presidential elections, in which President Hollande is expected to seek a new term.

Only 15 percent of French people said they approved of Hollande's leadership, and 20 percent in the case of Prime Minister Valls, according to a recent Huffington Post/iTele poll.

dj/msh (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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