Tuesday, June 14, 2016

At least 40 injured, many arrests in Paris anti-labor reform protests

At least 40 people, including 29 police officers, were injured when the latest protest against France’s highly unpopular labor law reforms turned violent as demonstrators clashed with police in Paris today. Police arrested many prostors and used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd.

Paris police chief Michel Cadot said he estimated "maybe more than 50,000 demonstrators" joined the protest in the city.

Clashes took place near the capital’s Port Royal railway station. Dozens of people, mostly wearing hoods, threw stones and firecrackers at the security forces, who responded with force to disperse the demonstration.

The unpopular reform, initiated by Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri, forces employers to pay only 10 percent of overtime bonus, instead of the current 25 percent. The bill technically maintains the 35-hour working week, but says that in case of “exceptional circumstances,” employees can be asked to work up to 60 hours a week.

The seven main French unions were hoping to attract a million workers to the protest against French President Francois Hollande's controversial labor reforms, despite falling support for the mass protests that have disrupted France since early March. A series of strikes and mass demonstrations have brought chaos to the rail network, the Paris Metro, airports, and road transport, because of industrial action and blockades at fuel refineries and depots.

The action is aimed at overturning reforms to the highly codified French workers' rights laws — known as the Code du travail — in order to give employers more flexibility. The labor reforms were largely directed at making companies take on more workers on permanent contracts, rather than temporary ones including zero hours contracts, to bring down the unemployment rate from ten percent. The trend to contract working and part time work was set in train by restrictive rules imposed by the EU which, at the same time as they imposed unacceptable restrictions on European employers, made it easier to 'offshore' jobs or to subcontact work through agencies to foreign firms which under EU law, are answerable to the law of the country in which the form is registered. Hollande's proposals would give employers more scope to lay-off workers and cut costs and allow some employees to work far longer than the current 35-hour week.

The reforms were pushed through by Hollande, who invoking a little used piece of the constitution — Article 49.3 — bypassed the Senate — which is dominated by Republicans, who are against the reforms.

Opinion polls show that, while four out of five, disagree with the labor reforms, there is dwindling support for the industrial action — particularly with the eyes of the world on France, which is hosting the current Euro 2016 football tournament. France 24 reported that only 4.5 percent of employees at state-owned national rail company SNCF were on strike Monday (June 13) — which is significantly smaller than previously.


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