In Brief

Macron stakes credibility on five-year labour reform plan

While France pursues new strategy for the economy, unions plan strikes

French President Emmanuel Macron is gambling on a five-year labour reform strategy to revive his political momentum and pull France out of its economic rut, but union leaders still need to be convinced.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe officially starts briefing unions this morning, but the broad strokes of the plan are already known. Weeks of talks with union leaders have forced some compromises already.

Under the programme, French companies will get more power to hire and fire, negotiate staff hours and salaries, reduce the number of workers' committees, limit severance packages and extend the list of issues employers can negotiate directly with staff, Reuters reports. 

"It's a program that challenges decades of economic intransigence in statist France, and proved beyond the country's last three leaders," Bloomberg's Mark Deen writes. Its aim, he says, is to boost employment by embracing free-market thinking.

Macron faces seemingly inflexible unions, an unemployment level of 9.5 per cent and a slide in his own personal popularity. The latest polls show the 39-year-old leader's "dissatisfaction rating" among voters rose from 43 per cent in July to 57 per cent in August, The Guardian reports.

The risk is that Macron's strategy may fail, as it did with his predecessors, and the confidence driving France's economic rebound could evaporate, Bloomberg says.

"The labour law will set the tone for Macron's whole term," Pierre Gattaz, head of the influential Medef business lobby, said.

Parliamentary approval has been granted for the labour reforms under a special accelerated procedure.

"But opposition will manifest on the streets, with strikes and demonstrations planned next month," says The Economist. "Mr Macron's immediate worries are not over yet."

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