French President Emmanuel Macron has faced fresh strikes over his controversial public sector reforms, but has resolved not to back down in the fight for French business.
Workers across France’s public sector, which employs a fifth of the French population, are unhappy about reforms he had touted during his election campaign. The former investment banker is accused of forsaking ordinary French people in favour of rich business interests.
All nine of France’s main unions united for the strike action, the first time this has happened in a decade. However, only 209,000 of the eligible 5.4 million union members participated in the latest countrywide strike, the fourth such demonstration since Macron took office.
Nevertheless, the outpouring has been strong enough that Macron opted to appear in a TV broadcast to the nation, defending his policies. Macron dismissed the criticism that he is a ‘President of the rich’, instead pointing to the reforms as a key tenet of his electoral platform.
Macron sees the reforms as a vital component in his bid to revitalise the French economy. France has seen sluggish growth ever since the financial crisis, with the term of former President Hollande doing little to address the problem.
Macron believes that the public sector is too large, and offers benefits far more generous than France’s more prosperous neighbours. He is looking to cut thousands of jobs over the next four years, and has proposed significant cuts and changes to the traditional French working culture.
Having allowed some shops to open on Sundays - a sacrosanct period of rest in France - Macron is now looking to allow small companies to negotiate hours and overtime without union interference. He also wants to make it easier for companies to hire and fire employees, something that is made difficult by long tribunals and hefty severance fees.
Reports indicate that several of the largest unions have agreed to Macron’s initial proposals behind the scenes, following several months of consultation. Fresh talks are expected for Macron’s next suite of proposals, including extensions to unemployment benefits and cutting pensions.
Macron ultimately hopes to cut billions off public spending, which currently makes up 56.5% of France’s annual GDP, one of the highest rates in the world. With plans to reduce corporate tax to favour businesses, the need to slash public spending is particularly pressing.
With the appetite for strikes lower across France than in previous decades, Macron is expected to successfully implement most of his policy platform. Some have drawn comparisons with Margaret Thatcher, and her systemic overhaul of the UK’s unions and business culture.
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