Macron in hot water over labor plan that targets unemployed, not unemployment
French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to slash benefits for the unemployed in half if they refuse “reasonable” job offers and annul them for two months in case of repeated refusals sparked criticism from both left and right.
The newest step on Macron’s pro-business agenda was revealed by satirical weekly Canard Enchaine on Wednesday. The report referred to a confidential memo from the Labor Ministry outlining the French president’s plan to tighten screws on the jobless by making them qualify for the benefits and pay severe penalties for the lack of trying. Per the plan, those entitled to the unemployment benefits would be required to report monthly on what they have done to get a job. If the authorities find out that a person has refused a training program or job offers deemed suitable at least twice, his benefits would be cut in half – a severe increase from the existing 20 percent penalty. Moreover, the benefits could be cut off completely for two months in case a person does not change his ways and keeps on refusing job or training opportunities provided by the authorities.
The plan has been slammed by left-wing France Insoumise [France Unbowed] party and right-wing National Front [NF] alike, arguing that it would stigmatize all unemployed whether they are genuinely seeking a job or are happy to rely on the government’s handouts.
NF spokesman Jordan Bardella said that the law would create an atmosphere of “widespread suspicion” making law-abiding citizens “victims of mass unemployment” that has plagued France for years, arguing that the approach should be adjusted to focus on “notorious fraudsters.”
Alexis Corbiere, spokesman for France Insoumise, which is led by former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, echoed the sentiment, accusing Macron of picking the wrong target.
"This is unacceptable! The fight against the unemployed is not the fight against unemployment," Corbiere tweeted.
France’s Socialist Party (PS) has joined in the criticism, suggesting on Twitter that Macron is doing the bidding of Pierre Gattaz, President of the Movement of the Enterprises in France [MEDEF], the country’s major pro-business organization.
The PS asks the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister not to give Pierre #Gattaz the role of the ‘social’ adviser of the government," the party wrote on Twitter.
"Emmanuel Macron continues the MEDEF’s roadmap in which the unemployed are [deemed] responsible for unemployment,” Éric Coquere, another French MP representing France Insoumise, said, as cited by Le Figaro.
Macron defended the proposed measure, saying it doesn't aim to paint all who receive state benefits as fraudsters.
"If there are no rules, things cannot move ahead. That doesn't mean that we'll chase everyone," Macron, who is on vacation, told LCI late Wednesday, adding that he is simply following through on his pre-election campaign pledge.
“These rules were announced during the campaign. And as always, we do what we said. I said it and we will do it,” he said, noting that the government plans to put in €15 billion into training programs for the unemployed.
Brushing off the criticism, he argued that “there is nothing shocking” in the proposal, saying that it is “normal” that “the few” who abuse the generous French scheme of allowances are controlled.
The controversial measure, that is to be debated on January 11, is likely to become another red flag for those angry with Macron’s liberal reforms aimed at reducing unemployment, which stands at 9.6 percent, two points above the European average of 7.8 percent. The overhaul of the Labor Code, that had given more leverage to businesses in negotiating terms of employment making it easier for them to fire and hire staff while capping payouts, sparked a wave of mass protests across the country spearheaded by France’s powerful labor unions.