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France announces new reforms to labour laws

French prime minister Manuel Valls has announced new reforms to the country's labour laws, beginning by allowing companies to change working hours. 11 Nov 2015

The French government expects reform of the labour code to take several years, but will present proposed changes to laws on working hours by the first quarter of 2016, it said this week (link in French).

The government has said will not change the 35 hour working week. However, questions of working hours, rest times, holiday and overtime pay should be open to change through collective agreements, it said.

"This will be an ambitious reform, which will profoundly change our labour code," labour minister, Myriam El Khomri, said in parliament, according to Reuters.

"It doesn't mean fewer rights, but we have to take responsibility for this clarification," El Khomri said.

"Without delay, the government makes the choice to re-write in the proposed bill the essential part of the labour code dedicated to working hours, rest and paid leave," the government said.

Defending the status quo is the worst way to protect workers' rights, the government said. Instead, the law must be reformed to reflect new values and the new working reality. "The aim is to protect and secure fundamental principles while adapting them to today's world and promoting growth and employment," it said.

"This type of big legislative project is not unusual in France," said Paris-based employment law expert Coline Bied-Charreton of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.

"The reform would constitute the second 'recodification' of this code. A first recodification took place in 2008, supposedly to simplify and clarify the code. It definitely did not result in any simplification," Bied-Charreton said.

"The main difference now is that the reform of the code would consist of simplifying not only its presentation, but also its contents. It aims to simplify negotiation, and the rules that apply to companies, particularly smaller ones," she said.

"There will also be critical changes to the working time regulations, where current legislation is extraordinarily rigid."

"If the government succeeds in this ambitious reform, it would represent a little revolution in the area of labour law. But the government would still have to convince its successors, as national elections are due to take place on May 2017," Bied-Charreton said.

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