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The Two Pillars of French Economic Reform

The French government has just announced the guidelines for a new labor code, its first major reform to boost France’s economy, by giving more flexibility to companies to adapt to the marketplace. The second major reform sought by President Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet – an overhaul of the French state – is set to follow.

PARIS – The French government has just announced the guidelines for a new labor code, its first major reform to boost France’s economy, by giving more flexibility to companies to adapt to the marketplace. The second major reform sought by President Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet – an overhaul of the French state – is set to follow.

The changes to the labor code have four goals. First, direct negotiations between employers and employees in small and medium-size firms (accounting for 55% of the workforce) would be facilitated by allowing such companies to negotiate with elected representatives not mandated by the trade unions. Second, social dialogue within larger firms would be simplified by merging separate workers’ committees (for hygiene, health, safety, and so on) into a central body. Third, collective bargaining over wages and employment would be decentralized from national to sectoral and/or firm level. Finally, laying off employees would become easier and more predictable, in particular with the introduction of upper and lower levels on payouts issued by labor courts.

The reform of the labor code will soon be accompanied by reforms of the unemployment insurance and job training systems. On the former, the government will take over from the unions, in order to provide unemployment benefits to all categories of workers, including the self-employed and those who voluntarily quit their current job to search for a new one. The cost of reforming unemployment insurance, however, is estimated at €3-5 billion ($3.6-6 billion), which may prove difficult to square with 2018 budget plans, which foresee a €20 billion cut in spending.

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