March 11, 2016 / 1:49 PM / in 2 years

French government fails to convince student unions on labor reform

A student offers a heart-shaped paper cutout to a French CRS riot policeman during a demonstration against the French labour law proposal in Lyon, France, as part of nationwide labor reform bill protests by students and union members, March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Robert Pratta

PARIS (Reuters) - The French government failed to convince student organizations in talks on Friday of the merits of its labor reform plans, and the unions stepped out of the meetings making renewed calls for street protests next week.

Students and unions staged rallies across France on Wednesday, and more are scheduled for Saturday, Thursday and March 31.

Just over a year before presidential elections, Socialist President Francois Hollande, already deeply unpopular, has to find ways to tackle growing anger from left-wing youth organizations that would usually back him.

Hollande and his government have said they are willing to make some tweaks but want to stick to the main aspects of a reform that aims to loosen labor relations and make them open to negotiation at individual companies.

“We want that law to be withdrawn,” William Martinet, the head of France’s biggest student group Unef, which is close to the ruling Socialist party, said after talks with Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his labor and economy ministers.

He told reporters that Friday’s talks had only strengthened the union’s belief that protests were all that could be done to persuade the government to change its mind.

Unef has for decades been close to the Socialist party, and many of the party’s top officials come from its ranks, some of whom are giving the union cash handouts to support its campaign.

Alexandre Leroy from students union FAGE, which says it represents 2,000 students associations, also called on students to take to the streets on Saturday.

“If nothing’s done, we’re heading to a dead-end,” he said.

The government’s reform plan aims at limiting the cost of laying off workers and puts most aspects of France’s strictly codified rules on labor relations up for negotiation.

Initially due to be adopted in a cabinet meeting this week, the bill was postponed by two weeks after it triggered harsh criticism from within the Socialist party.

Reporting by Ingrid Melander and Jean-Baptiste Vey; Editing by Louise Ireland

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