Macron under fire for plan to rein in unemployment benefits

Far-right politicians and leftists assail French President's move to tighten monitoring of recipients

PARIS • French President Emmanuel Macron has come under fire over his policy on jobless benefits after a press leak pointed to plans to tighten monitoring of people on the dole.

The investigative weekly Canard Enchaine, citing an internal memo, said on Wednesday that those receiving jobless benefits would be required to submit a monthly report on their job-hunting efforts.

Politicians both to the left and the right of the centrist President assailed the idea of a monthly reporting requirement, with the Socialist Party tweeting that it was first mooted by the head of the employers' federation, Mr Pierre Gattaz.

But Mr Macron defended the plan in an interview with French radio LCI. "If there are no rules, things cannot move ahead. That doesn't mean that we'll chase everyone," he said on Wednesday.

Mr Macron, elected in May on a pro-business platform, included a pledge to overhaul unemployment insurance - along with his landmark labour reforms - with a view to reining in unemployment.

Employers regularly point to the unemployment benefit system, seen as among Europe's most generous, as a reason for France's chronically high joblessness.

  • 9.6%

    Unemployment has dipped to around this level since Mr Emmanuel Macron's election.

Some five weeks of negotiations on the sensitive issue are set to begin on Jan 11.

Mr Alexis Corbiere of the radical left France Unbowed party told news channel BFMTV: "All this bureaucracy around unemployment has only one goal: to strike people (off the rolls) and then be able to say, 'Look, thanks to us unemployment is down'."

Far-right National Front spokesman Jordan Bardella questioned a policy of "generalised suspicion" towards the unemployed, saying the government should instead focus on rooting out "notorious cheaters".

Under the plan, those who refuse two job offers deemed "reasonable" or who refuse training will have their benefits halved for two months compared with the current 20 per cent cut, said the Canard, which combines biting satire with regular investigative scoops.

If they fail to step back into line, the benefits will be totally withdrawn for the next two months, it said, citing a confidential Labour Ministry memo.

Thanks to the comfortable parliamentary majority enjoyed by Mr Macron's Republic on the Move party, the President has been on a legislative roll, notably pushing through his overhaul of France's complex labour code in September.

On Wednesday, Mr Macron told Spanish daily El Mundo he expected the labour reforms to produce "major results within 18 to 24 months" for the employment situation.

Since Mr Macron's election, unemployment has dipped to around 9.6 per cent - still about twice that of Britain or Germany and well above the European average of 7.8 per cent.

His reforms are designed to give employers more flexibility to negotiate pay and conditions with their workers while making it easier and less costly to shed staff.

Unemployment is expected to stabilise at around 9.4 per cent by mid-next year, its lowest level since early 2012.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2017, with the headline 'Macron under fire for plan to rein in unemployment benefits'. Print Edition | Subscribe