The French government has decided to bypass parliament to push through its controversial labor bill. Amid social and parliamentary opposition the flagship reform might not make it into life in unrevised form. Again.
The decision to avoid parliament was announced by Prime Minister Manuel Valls at an extraordinary cabinet meeting Tuesday and is enabled by a clause in the constitution known as 49.3.
It follows several more weeks of protests - known as "Nuit Debout" - across the country and opposition from members of parliament (MPs) within Valls' ruling Socialist party.
The government's draft law would amend the 35-hour working week and relax other labor rules. The 35-hour week would remain as the foundation, but the proposal would allow companies to organize alternative working times without industry-wide deals. Workers would also be able to put in a 48-hour week or 12-hour shifts.
The reforms have already been watered down under pressure from an earlier wave of protests, with 58 percent of the French people opposed to the measures, according to a poll in April.
Legislation by decree has been used before under Socialist President Francois Hollande - the least popular leader in modern French history with an approval rating of only 13 percent - to force through another controversial economic reform on trading hours and deregulation.
Hollande going for broke
Hollande has said he will consider running for re-election in 2017 only if inroads are made into a stubbornly high unemployment rate of over 10 percent.
Joblessness is nearer to 25 percent among the young, with many stuck in a cycle of short-term contracts and internships. The labor market reforms are intended to make it easier for companies to hire and fire.
Masked youths face off with French police during a demonstration against the French labour law proposal in Paris
Rolling back the state
Opponents decry what they say is "Anglo-Saxon" encroachment on the French post-war social model, where the onus has been on protection of workers' rights at the expense of supply-side flexibility.
For some on the left and center a loss on this reform would encourage the government to push ahead with other bills seen as deconstructing the complex benefits and insurance system built up since 1945.
"This is really an authoritarian government," said Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the Force Ouvriere trade union. "If it was really a bill for social progress... the majority (vote) would be found."
jbh/kms (Reuters, AFP)