French government forces labour bill through Parliament

PARIS – France’s government forced approval of a contested labour bill in the lower house of Parliament without a vote Tuesday — for a second time — because of resistance from the left and right.

While lawmakers marched out of the National Assembly in anger, French unions marched through nearby Paris streets in what may be their last show of force against the bill, which has divided the nation and prompted the worst social unrest in years.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls invoked a special constitutional article Tuesday to approve the second reading of the bill, which would give companies more freedom to fire workers and extend working hours.

The governing Socialist Party is split over the bill, with the leftist flank saying it goes too far and threatens hard-won worker protections, while the opposition conservatives say the measure doesn’t go far enough to loosen labour rules.

Valls argued that the bill is needed to boost hiring after decades of high unemployment and said he made the move “in the general interest.”

Protesters in Paris and other cities want the government to scrap the bill entirely. Months of demonstrations and strikes have damaged tourism, caused gasoline shortages and led to frequent clashes between projectile-throwing protesters and police firing tear gas.

Valls used the same constitutionalmanoeuvr for the first reading of the bill, inflaming critics who accuse the government of trampling democracy.

The bill now goes back to the conservative-led Senate, then returns later this month to the lower house, which has the final say.