France President, Emmanuel Macron prepared on Friday to sign sweeping changes to France’s complex labour code, sealing a signature reform after four months at the helm.
The measures, which are set to enter the statute books on Monday, are designed to give employers more flexibility to negotiate pay and conditions with their workers while reducing the costs of firing staff.
According to AFP, the 39-year-old Macron will sign the reforms in a televised ceremony from 12:45 pm (1045 GMT).
The overhaul, eagerly awaited by the business community and France’s EU partners, was fast-tracked via executive orders as a way of avoiding a prolonged battle in the streets.
Three months of negotiations with union leaders pointed up a split between those willing to compromise — the CFDT and FO — and those determined to fight the reforms, led by the largest and most militant union, the CGT.
But the resistance has been far weaker than that faced by Macron’s Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande over his changes to the labour code, which sparked a wave of sometimes violent protests last year.
On Thursday, some 132,000 people demonstrated across France, just over half the numbers who took part last week in the first major street protests organised by trade unions since the centrist Macron was elected in May.
The Macron team insists that the reforms will encourage hiring and will offer the best cure to France’s stubbornly high unemployment rate, which stands at 9.5 percent, roughly twice the levels in Britain or Germany.
Public opinion is divided, according to a recent BVA poll, with most respondents saying they think the reforms will boost France’s competitiveness but fail to improve employees’ working conditions.
Critics see the use of executive orders as reinforcing perceptions of Macron as a monarchical or even “pharaonic” leader.
But Macron insists he has a mandate for change after sweeping the board in presidential and parliamentary elections in May and June.
“Democracy does not happen in the street,” Macron said in New York on Wednesday.