France braces for nationwide protests against labour reforms

French President Francois Hollande holding a press conference during an EU leaders summit in Brussels on March 7, 2016.
French President Francois Hollande holding a press conference during an EU leaders summit in Brussels on March 7, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (REUTERS) - France was bracing for a day of nationwide strikes and protests against far-reaching labour reforms on Wednesday (March 9), with the Socialist government hoping to prevent simmering discontent among students from boiling over.

Student groups have joined with hardline labour unions in calling for a national day of protest against Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri's labour law reforms, the government's latest attempt to bring down an unemployment rate above 10 per cent.

The reforms, which would put almost all aspects of the country's strictly codified labour relations up for negotiation between employers and unions, have infuriated the unions, who say they unduly threaten job security.

Some 144 marches and protests will be held nationwide, according to CGT, France's biggest union. National railway company SNCF said it expected major disruption to its services, especially around Paris. Eurostar services between Paris, London and Brussels will also be affected, the operator said.

President Francois Hollande will keep a close eye on the number of students on the streets, keen to avoid a repeat of the massive student protests 10 years ago that forced former president Jacques Chirac to withdraw his labour reforms.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has already postponed the labour reform's presentation to cabinet by two weeks, a sign that the government might water down its plans, which have divided lawmakers in the ruling Socialist party.

The government is still holding talks with unions and hopes to convince moderate ones such as the CFDT, the country's second biggest, to approve the reforms, preventing the creation of a unified front against it.