Protests in France as labour reform anger grows

High school pupils and workers protested across France Wednesday against deeply unpopular labour reforms that have divided the Socialist government and raised hackles in a country accustomed to iron-clad job security.

Paris: High school pupils and workers protested across France Wednesday against deeply unpopular labour reforms that have divided the Socialist government and raised hackles in a country accustomed to iron-clad job security.

Teenagers and students were expected to be among the most vocal demonstrators against reforms they fear will render their future even more unstable, and gathered from early morning despite pouring rain in many cities.

Pupils blocked entry to several schools in Paris at the start of the day of protests that was compounded by a rail strike over a wage dispute that left many commuters stranded for hours.

France`s government has faced massive blowback -- including from within its ranks -- to measures that would give bosses more flexibility in hiring and firing.

The reforms aim to bring down a record 10.2-percent unemployment rate, which is more than double that for young people.

The proposed new law also cuts overtime pay for work beyond 35 hours -- the working week famously introduced in the 1990s in an earlier Socialist bid to boost employment. In some sectors, young apprentices could work 40 hours a week.

William Martinet, president of the Unef student union, said the proposals "betrayed the youth."

An online petition against the El Khomri draft law, named after Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri, has attracted more than a million signatures, while a poll showed seven in 10 people were opposed to the planned changes.

President Francois Hollande, who campaigned on a promise to improve the prospects of young people, said on the eve of the protests that he wanted to help them "have more job stability".
"We must also give companies the opportunity to recruit more, to give job security to young people throughout their lives, and to provide flexibility for companies."

Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Monday kicked off three days of talks with unions in a bid to salvage the law, after the chorus of opposition derailed a plan to submit the proposals to the cabinet this week.

The turmoil created by the proposals has struck yet another blow to Hollande and Valls, who have come under attack from leading members of the Socialist party for being too pro-business and shifting to the right.

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