French workers march in protest at changes to 35-hour working week

A former advisor to the government says the proposed bill is a 'historic mistake'

French workers and students are due to march in protest against a controversial labour bill which could see them lose their protected 35-hour week,

Student unions say a new bill by the left-wing French government, which reportedly makes it easier to lay off workers, is a "veritable return to the last century for the world of the workplace," according to The Times.

Railway workers also began a 36-hour strike protesting the changes alongside other nationwide strikes on what is being called "Black Wednesday" in the country.

The bill, which is being introduced by labour minister Myriam El Khomri and is supported by prime minister Manuel Valls, includes a way of circumventing the French statutory 35-hour week by enabling staff to volunteer for longer hours under some circumstances.

Peter Jacquemain, a close adviser to Ms El Khomri before he resigned, said he understood the outcry.

"This bill is a historic mistake," he told L'Humanité.

"This is a regression in social rights, to the extent that many gains of the workers will be renegotiated at a business level, where the balance of power is systemtically not favourable for employees."

One of the aims of the bill is to enable employers to hire more workers, according to Euro News.

It also aims to prevent some groups - such as ethnic minorities and working class communities - from being locked out of the labour market by ending jobs for life among more privileged groups - yet critics have said this is an attack on French workers' right to job security.

Their voices already seem to have made some impact, with French president Francois Hollande meeting with party members to discuss "improvements" to the bill, in a move others have interpreted as an attempt to soften the changes.

His labour minister Ms El Khomri has also come under scrutiny over the proposed changes, with more than 780,000 people signing a petition to her to drop the bill.

She is reported to be in negotiations with workers' and employers' unions, according to RFI.

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