France forces through contested labour bill without vote
France's Socialist government on Tuesday used a constitutional tactic to bypass parliament and ram through a labour reform bill that has sparked two months of massive street protests.
The reform, which would make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers, is viewed as the last major piece of legislation for President Francois Hollande as the clock ticks down on his term in office.
But Hollande, the least popular leader in modern French history, has faced fierce and vocal opposition from within the ranks of his own party, making passage through parliament unlikely.
Hollande's cabinet decided at an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday to invoke the constitution's controversial Article 49.3, allowing the government to bypass parliament.
The tactic to legislate by decree has been used only once before under Hollande -- to force through another controversial economic reform governing trading hours and the deregulation of some sectors.
- 'Spectacle of division' -
"Pursuing the debate in parliament would pose the risk of... abandoning the compromise that we have built," Prime Minister Manuel Valls told parliament.
He said the government wanted to avoid "a disheartening spectacle of division and political posturing because of an obstructionist minority".
Pressure from the street -- as well as parliament's back benches -- caused the government to water down the proposals, which only angered bosses while failing to assuage critics.
Bosses were notably unhappy with the withdrawal of a cap on the amount companies must pay for unfair dismissal, as well as the scrapping of a measure that would have allowed small- and medium-sized companies to unilaterally introduce flexible working hours.
The government says the new labour reform will help cut stubbornly high unemployment of around 10 percent -- a pledge on which Hollande has staked his presidency.
The reforms would remove some of the obstacles to laying off workers, but its detractors fear it will erode the cast-iron job security enjoyed by French workers who are on full-time contracts.
Student organisations believe it will fail to create secure jobs for young people. Joblessness is nearer to 25 percent among the young, with many stuck in an endless cycle of short-term contracts and internships.
The opposition has already filed a motion for a no-confidence vote in parliament, and asked left-wing critics of the bill to back them.
The ruling Socialists were thought to have been short around 30 votes for the bill, and 15 of the dissenters met with Valls earlier on Tuesday.
Their leader Christian Paul said afterwards that the prime minister "clearly did not want to find a compromise."
While far-left MPs and dissident Socialist deputies may be reluctant to cause the fall of the government, they have not ruled it out.
Even if the government survives the no-confidence vote, use of the heavy-handed constitutional manoeuvre to ram through the law will likely further lower Hollande's standing among left-wing voters.
The 61-year-old Hollande is facing a re-election bid next April with the lowest poll numbers of any recent president. His approval rating currently stands at 13 percent.
Protests against the labour reform kicked off on March 9, culminating in massive demonstrations on March 31 that brought 390,000 people onto the streets, according to an official count, while organisers put the number at 1.2 million.
The protests spawned a new youth-led movement called "Nuit Debout" (Up All Night), which has seen advocates of a broad spectrum of causes gather in city squares at night to demand change.
© 2016 AFP