French lawmakers debating measure to speed up labor reforms

The French parliament began debating Monday a special measure making it easier, and quicker, for President Emmanuel Macron's government to redesign the nation's labor rules, one of the most divisive promises of his presidency.

The bill would allow the government to avoid what would surely be lengthy, heated debate on a volatile subject in France.

The move is controversial and far-left lawmakers have called the debate, to last for a week, the "mother of battles."

France's jobless rate has hovered around 10 percent for years, and Macron has vowed to bring it down by the end of his five-year term. Like other presidents, Macron insists on the need for more flexible labor laws making it easier to, for instance, hire and fire workers.

Details of the labor reforms are to be unveiled in late August. 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.

Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud said at the opening of debate that the law will aim to give a larger voice to companies, simplifying negotiations and ultimately renovating employer-employee relations so that the workplace "is not a place of conflict."

"Too many laws don't protect well," she said.

Unions fear the reforms will strip away hard-earned worker protections, and castigate the special measure meant to help the reforms sail through parliament.

"We want to create new laws so employees are better protected," said Adrien Quatennas, a far-left lawmaker whose group filed a motion to reject the bill.

Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who won a seat in June parliamentary elections, has called for protests on Wednesday. The Communist-backed CGT union plans a protest for September.

In the end, "they're going to put texts under our noses that we can't say anything about," CGT leader Philippe Martinez said on the BFM-TV station.

Macron's Republic on the Move! party has an absolute majority in the 577-seat National Assembly, assuring passage of the measure.

However, easy sailing in parliament does not guarantee a smooth ride.

Under Macron's predecessor, Francois Hollande, attempts to ease labor rules drew tens of thousands of people onto the streets for months.