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Macron’s government kicks off controversial labor reform

France's newly-elected member of Parliament Francois de Rugy, center top, delivers a speech after being elected new Speaker of the House and President of the National Assembly during the first session of French National Assembly after the recent presidential and legislative elections, in Paris, Tuesday, June 27, 2017. France's newly elected lawmakers, most of them from President Emmanuel Macron's centrist party, are gathering their first parliament session. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

PARIS (AP) — President Emmanuel Macron’s government is launching an effort to redesign French labor rules, one of the most important and divisive promises of his presidency.

Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud told RTL radio Wednesday the government is “moving the rules of the game” in hopes of tackling unemployment, hovering near 10 percent.

A draft labor law is being presented at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, and unions fear it strips hard-earned worker protections. The government proposes to cap the financial penalty for companies sued for firing employees, and to allow businesses more flexibility to define internal working rules.

The government wants to use a special procedure to pass the measures this summer without extended debate in parliament.

Penicaud, a former director of human resources for food-products multinational group Danone, said the reform is “expected by the French, they gave a clear signal of need for change” by electing Macron, a pro-free market centrist.

She insisted the bill could be amended and the government isn’t signing itself a “blank check.” A total of 48 meetings with workers unions and employers’ organizations are scheduled to discuss the reform, she stressed.

The CGT union called for a national day of protests and strikes against the labor reform on Sept. 12.

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