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Labour law tinkering sparks protests in France
Emigration reason for dole drop in Portugal

THE LABOUR CODE (CODE DU TRAVAIL) IN France regulates terms and conditions of work on a national and industry-wide basis. Although some of its 10,000 articles have been amended before its basic tenets, such as the 35-hour week, have been regarded as untouchable. Now currently unpopular President Francois Hollande and his Socialist Party Prime Minister Manuel Valls have decided to make more substantial changes. The 35-hour week would remain as the foundation, but the proposal would allow companies to organise alternative working times

Valls,M., Hollande, F.

Prime Minister Valls & President Hollande

without industry-wide deals. Workers would also be able to put in a 48-hour week or 12-hour shifts. The plans have sparked massive protests with seven trade unions and youth groups demanding their total withdrawal and a new street movement known as ‘Nuit Debout’ filling town squares across France with students and young people in a way reminiscent of Los Indignados in Spain. Altogether trade unions said that half a million people were on the streets while a petition against the reforms gathered a million signatures, a French record. There is also opposition from within the Socialist party: Martine Aubry, the author of the 35-hour week (see issue 8) has resigned all her party positions, condemning the law as a betrayal of the French ‘social contract’. M. Valls however believes that the measures are ‘intelligent, audacious and necessary’ as a way of reducing unemployment which he blames on the ‘barriers to the labour market’ created by existing laws. Already though the proposals have been watered down by scrapping a cap on unfair dismissal payments and by withdrawing the right of small companies to introduce flexible working without negotiation. This backtracking has angered the business lobby. In the end Hollande and his ministers had to push the new law through parliament without a vote, using emergency powers, despite 58% of those polled recently being against it.

THE CENTRE-RIGHT GOVERNMENT in Portugal, which lost an election in November last year, lauded a recent fall in unemployment as a sign that its austerity policy was working. Between April and September 2015 the rate declined from 13.7% to 11.9%, back to 2010 levels. Trade unions and academics have now taken a closer look at the figures and have concluded that they are not as comforting as first thought. According to the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP) ‘recent employment policies encouraged emigration as a means of economic adjustment’. Portugal has the highest emigration rate as a proportion of population in the EU; between 2011 and 2014 more than 485,000 workers left the country to seek better living and working conditions abroad. A new trend is the increasing number of qualified workers leaving; between 2001 and 2011 the number of Portuguese with higher qualifications living in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries grew by 87.5%. In this way the number of unemployed people within the country is reduced but CGTP also point to several other groups who are not included. Discouraged workers who have left the labour market, part-timers who want more hours, interns and those

Carlos, A.

Armenio Carlos, General Secretary of CGTP

on special ‘employment-insertion contracts’, who do not have formal job contracts, all fail to show up in the statistics. If all these categories were considered, the actual rate of unemployment and underemployment in 2014 would rise to 24.3%. A better measure, says the union, is the number of jobs lost which amount to 617,000 between 2008 and 2014, representing 12.1% of total employment. On the ‘brain drain’ question the Emigration Observatory think-tank reports that highly qualified people have been affected by the public sector cuts, enforced by the ‘troika’ of international lenders, as this was the largest employer of university graduates. The health professions have been particularly hard-hit as thousands of doctors and nurses have left with the U.K. as the number one destination. Two-thirds of Portuguese nurses in Britain are young people who have graduated within the last five years and a half of them found their first job in the U.K.

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