Leading French unions boycott job creation summit
A summit aimed at creating half a million badly needed jobs in France got off to a rocky start on Monday, with two major labour organisations saying they would boycott the event after accusing the state of kowtowing to business.
As President Francois Hollande opened the two-day labour conference, where he hopes to win an agreement to create more jobs in return for tax and social benefit cuts for companies, the CGT and Force Ouvriere (FO) union federations said they would shun crucial round-table talks scheduled for Tuesday, union sources told AFP.
The summit comes against a backdrop of record unemployment in the eurozone's second largest economy, with 3.38 million people out of work. The high jobless figures were seen as a key factor behind humiliating election defeats for Hollande's Socialists this year.
The unions have been angered by Prime Minister Manuel Valls's decision last week to defer a scheme for early retirement for those working in physically demanding jobs, following complaints from leading employers union Medef that it was too costly. The Medef also threatened to boycott the summit.
Union officials have expressed anger at Valls for not consulting them before making key decisions and have accused him as having contempt for workers.
Hollande's embattled government has pledged to cut state spending between 2015-2017 to finance a package of payroll and income tax cuts designed to make companies more competitive and attract investment.
The plan revolves around a so-called Responsibility Pact that offers businesses 40 billion euros ($54 billion) worth of cuts in taxes and social benefit charges in exchange for a pledge to create some 500,000 jobs by 2017.
- 'Take money and run' -
But the scheme is still woolly and it is yet to be worked out exactly how the government can force companies to create a specified number of jobs.
To add to the government's problems, France's powerful unions have accused the government of failing to make employers keep their end of the bargain.
They are particularly incensed by Valls delaying the early retirement scheme for those in tough jobs under a new points system.
Under this scheme, people engaged in demanding jobs -- working nights, exposed to loud noise or heavy loads or performing repetitive tasks -- would gain extra job training or early retirement as compensation.
The so-called "hardship accounts" were supposed to come into force in January 2015 but have now been delayed by a year, Valls announced last week.
The prime minister, while making the announcement, said "the ball is in the employees' court," further angering the unions who viewed it as a capitulation to business.
Unions have dubbed the Responsibility Pact an "austerity pact" and accuse Valls of giving in to "blackmail" by big business.
They have also described the government backdown on the early retirement issue as a "breakdown in labour dialogue."
More broadly, union leaders say talks on the hiring targets have failed to make real progress.
Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, the first secretary of the Socialist party, appeared to side with the unions on Monday, saying the Medef was only interested in one thing -- "to take the money and run."
On Sunday, five senior members of the Socialist party had urged Hollande to hold employers accountable, saying that Pierre Gattaz, the head of Medef, was "harassing the government."
© 2014 AFP