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Macron tries to sell plan to reform France’s labor market

French President Emmanuel Macron looks on during a meeting with CGT Union leader Philippe Martinez at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. French President Emmanuel Macron meets unions and business organizations to simplifying France's labor code. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron is holding meetings with unions and business organizations to discuss reforming the country’s labor market, which many blame for France’s sub-par economic performance over recent years.

Government spokesman Christophe Castaner told France 2 television that Tuesday’s meetings aim at opening a “dialogue” but that the “unions must understand the need for changing lines.”

During his presidential campaign, Macron pledged to make reform of the labor market a top priority as part of an effort to boost job hiring. French unemployment has hovered around 10 percent for years.

Macron’s proposed reforms, which include moving France’s collective wage bargaining from the industry to the company level, have prompted concerns from unions fearing they would weaken workers protections.

Macron’s plan may hinge on legislative elections next month.

Unions have called on the government not to rush to reform. Macron vowed to implement his labor plan by the end of summer, through a special procedure involving decrees, on condition the government gets parliamentary approval.

The head of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez, called on a “loyal” negotiation between the government and the unions, suggesting the reform’s agenda might not be as quick as previously announced.

Laurent Berger, the general secretary of the CFDT union, said Macron seemed “determined … but at the same time receptive.”

Following his meeting with the president, Berger said a tight deadline wouldn’t give “enough time to the necessary concentration on weighty issues.”

Pierre Gattaz, president of France’s main business lobby, the Medef, insisted, on the contrary, the reform needs to be quick to restore confidence in the country’s economic sphere.

He said business leaders “don’t want to have lots of obstacles to hire one, two, five or 10 persons… If it’s too complicated and a terrible stress, they don’t do it”.

Labor minister Muriel Penicaud will have the daunting task of supervising the reform. She notably worked as vice president, in charge of human resources for food group Danone.

Previous attempts to loosen France’s labor rules, under Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande, drew tens of thousands of people onto the streets for months.

One of the sets of measures promoted by Macron, then economy minister, allowed more stores to open on Sundays and evenings and opened up regulated sectors of the economy.

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