French labour minister, union chief meet after street unrest

PARIS – The leader of France’s left-wing CGT union, the main force of opposition to an unpopular labour reform bill that has led to violence in the streets, says he’s asked the labour minister to suspend parliamentary debate on the measure and re-write it.

Two days after an 80,000-strong Paris demonstration that degenerated into violent clashes with the police, Philippe Martinez met on Friday with Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri, and said later that two planned protest actions this month would not be called off, at least for now.

The contested bill would weaken France’s tight labour protections, notably allowing individual companies, after negotiations, to set specific work rules — such as working hours but not wages — instead of applying industry-wide deals. El Khomri insists the issue remains key to the reform.

Martinez said: “We’ve always said the bill should be withdrawn to be re-written.”

The bill is to be voted on June 28 in the Senate. The text will then need to be debated again in the lower house of parliament, which has final say.

A group of seven worker unions and student organizations, including the CGT, has called for two “national days of mobilization” on June 23 and June 28.

Earlier this week, President Francois Hollande warned that future street protests might be banned if the safety of people and public property is threatened.

Separately, three Air France pilots’ unions called Friday for a 4-day strike next week to demand better working conditions. Flights carrying spectators to cities holding matches for the European soccer championship might be affected.

Last week, about 20 per cent of Air France’s domestic and international flights were cancelled in a strike for the same reasons.

Unions plan to keep up the strike from June 24 to June 27, demanding better pay and more flight hours.