Hard-line French unions protest plan to loosen labour rules, give companies more flexibility

PARIS – France’s toughest unions are protesting the Socialist government’s plans to loosen the country’s famously rigid labour rules.

Multinationals are shutting factories around France amid Europe’s economic slowdown. France’s government is trying to stem job losses and turn the stagnant economy around with a new draft labour law being presented at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.

Three leading French unions support the plan. But two leading hard-line unions oppose it and are staging protests and a few scattered strikes Tuesday. They say it threatens France’s hard-earned worker rights.

The bill would make it easier for companies to cut salaries and working hours and negotiate with workers in times of financial difficulty. The government hopes this would encourage small businesses to hire and multinationals to keep production in France until the economy improves.