BUSINESS

France's 35-Hour Work Week Is About To Be Extended, Prompting Street Protests

03/24/2016 03:04 EDT | Updated 03/25/2017 05:12 EDT
PARIS — France's Socialist government has presented a contested labour market reform to amend the 35-hour workweek and relax other rules that has prompted street protests across France.

The bill was formally adopted Thursday at a Cabinet meeting and is to be discussed next month at parliament.

Thousands of students and workers demonstrated in the streets of Paris and other major French cities to seek the withdrawal of the bill. Incidents between demonstrators and the police led to 15 arrests in Paris and 9 in Nantes, in western France, according to French authorities. Two cars were burned in the capital.

france work week riots

French riot police stand next to a fire as they take a position after clashes erupted on March 24, 2016 in Nantes, western France, during a demonstration against the French government's proposed labour reforms. (Getty Images)

The government and businesses claim the reforms would help the economy by making it easier for companies to hire and fire workers. Currently, they say, some companies are reluctant to take on workers for fear they may not be able to downsize in times of financial trouble. France's unemployment rate is hovering at 10 per cent.

The protesters say the bill would badly damage employees' rights.

The proposal technically maintains the 35-hour workweek, which was conceived to fight joblessness by spreading work across more people, but allows companies to organize alternative working times. Those include a workweek of up to 48 hours and 12-hour days. In "exceptional circumstances," employees could work up to 60 hours a week.

Myriam El Khomri, French labour minister, said the bill is "balanced, with new flexibility for the businesses in order to improve the competitiveness of our economy, as well as new protections, new rights for the employees".

france work week protest

A protester holds a placard reading 'Evolution is not exploitation' on March 24, 2016 in Nantes, western France, during a demonstration against the French government's proposed labour reforms. (Getty Images)

The government tried to gain support from some worker unions by making a few changes in the bill last week. It has withdrawn measures that relaxed rules on working from home and at night and has introduced the control of a judge to ensure that multinational companies don't organize the artificial bankruptcy of their French branch in order to justify layoffs.

Neil Turnbull, head of Turnbull Associes, a real estate management company that has 23 employees in its Paris office, told the AP the labour reform would "give us more comfort in recruiting. We need to know that we have some flexibility when workload drops to be able to reduce staff. We haven't done that yet but it's an important issue for us."