France’s Macron launches sec­ond round of re­forms

The Phnom Penh Post - - BUSINESS - Déb­o­rah Claude and Adam Plowright

FRENCH Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron launched round two of his am­bi­tious do­mes­tic re­form pro­gramme on Wed­nes­day, wel­com­ing busi­ness lead­ers and trade union­ists for talks about a highly sen­si­tive over­haul of un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

Fresh from push­ing through ma­jor changes to French labour law, the 39-year-old cen­trist has now turned to the next stage of the “trans­for­ma­tion” of the French so­cial model which he has promised.

This in­cludes ma­jor changes to France’s gen­er­ous un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits sys­tem, as well as large in­creases in state­funded train­ing aimed at help­ing the un­em­ployed back into the work­place.

Any change to so­cial se­cu­rity is con­tro­ver­sial in France and Macron is hop- ing to avoid an es­ca­la­tion in street protests against him which be­gan in early Septem­ber at the call of trade unions.

“It was po­lite but firm,” the head of the Com­mu­nist-backed CGT trade union, Philippe Martinez, told re­porters af­ter talks with Macron at the pres­i­den­tial palace yes­ter­day.

Martinez has been one of the most vo­cal crit­ics of Macron since his elec­tion in May and the CGT has spear­headed what has so far been a mostly in­ef­fec­tive round of strikes and demon­stra­tions to de­mand the govern­ment change tack.

Macron in­tends to de­ploy the same play­book used to push through the labour law re­form: ne­go­ti­a­tions over the next few months cul­mi­nat­ing in a set of govern­ment’s pro­pos­als.

“Ob­jec­tive: to in­vent new pro­tec­tions,” Macron tweeted.

But whereas his op­po­nents were pre- vi­ously di­vided – with the more mod­er­ate CFDT and FO unions back­ing talks, not protests – there are grow­ing signs that the labour move­ment is pre­par­ing to push back to­gether.

Macron vowed dur­ing cam­paign­ing to over­haul the un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits sys­tem to ex­tend it to self-em­ployed peo­ple and farm­ers who are cur­rently not cov­ered, as well as open­ing it up – un­der cer­tain con­di­tions – to peo­ple who quit their jobs.

But con­tro­ver­sially he also pro­posed that ben­e­fits claimants could only refuse one job lo­cally for which they were qual­i­fied. If they re­fused twice, they would lose their pay­outs or have to ac­cept a govern­ment-ap­proved re­train­ing pro­gramme.

Funds set aside by the govern­ment for train­ing are set to to­tal € 15 bil­lion ($18 bil­lion) over the next five years for adult ed­u­ca­tion aimed at help­ing in­crease the skills of the job­less.

Macron’s pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings have fallen sharply since his elec­tion in May, with only 40 per­cent of re­spon­dents in a re­cent sur­vey say­ing they had a favourable view of the for­mer in­vest­ment banker.

ETIENNE LAU­RENT/AFP

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron (left) meets with the head of the em­ploy­ers fed­er­a­tion MEDEF, Pierre Gat­taz, in Paris yes­ter­day.

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