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3 Feb, 2020 19:36

‘Shame!’ French govt in damage control mode after plan to grant parents 12 days leave over death of child rejected by MPs

‘Shame!’ French govt in damage control mode after plan to grant parents 12 days leave over death of child rejected by MPs

The Elysee is trying to avert yet another scandal after President Macron’s party-dominated parliament rejected a plan to extend work leave for parents who had experienced the death of a child, prompting cries of “Shame!” online.

The proposal, put forward by the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) and Agir (the Constructive Right), asked to extend the leave from five to 12 days, but was voted down by government deputies from French President Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche! (LREM) party.

Anticipating the eruption of another national controversy, France’s Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud quickly stepped in to admit that the government made a "mistake" and promised to find a solution to the issue in the coming days. In an interview with Le Parisien on Sunday, she said the extension to 12 days will "return to the Senate in the form of a government amendment.”

Minister for Relations with the Parliament Marc Fesneau (MoDem) made similar comments. "Let's admit that there was a mistake, it's not worth beating around the bush," he said. But the condemnation from opposition parties and French citizens was swift.

"We are talking about the tragedy of tragedies,” said opposition politician François Ruffin. “Twelve days, I thought it would pass like a letter in the post.” On Twitter, Ruffin condemned the government’s action as a “vast meanness” and said that like maternity leave, which has been decided by government, leave guaranteed after the death of a child should be decided in law also.

While it was initially adopted in the Social Affairs Committee of the National Assembly last Wednesday, the text of the proposal was later stripped down by deputies from LREM and the Democratic Movement (MoDem). Instead, a new amendment was added suggesting employers could "create a donation account" for the employee after the death of a minor.

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The reason, which shocked French citizens who aired their disgust online, was that such a 12-day policy could be considered a burden to companies. The opposition argued that people cannot rely on the kindness of corporations and businesses to do what’s right. Some French felt the original suggestion didn’t even go far enough, and that 12 days was not nearly sufficient time for the grieving parents of a deceased child.

One critic suggested that the government deputies should visit the homes of parents caring for children with long-term illnesses to understand the distress they face, particularly if the outcome is a painful one. Another slammed the government as a "total shame in the eyes of the whole world."

By Saturday, the outrage had prompted the Elysee Palace to respond, and Macron himself had called for the National Assembly to show "humanity" on the issue.

Even Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, the chief of Medef, France’s largest employer federation, couldn’t quite believe the reluctance to grant parents a mere 12 days after such a tragic event as the death of a child. "I do not know a boss who would refuse additional days to an employee who lost his child. Above all, we must put the impact into perspective, which will be very small, fortunately," he said

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About 4,500 children die before reaching the age of majority (18) in France annually, meaning the effect on businesses in reality would be extremely small, and even non-existent for most. “If we quantified the number of cases per company, per year and by number of employees and we reported it to the company's accounts, we would come across a perfectly insignificant "cost,” one person wrote on Twitter. 

The controversy comes as Macron’s government is unsuccessfully attempting to put out multiple social fires. The Yellow Vest movement has entered its 64th week of anti-government protests and, more recently, unpopular pension reform plans sparked weeks of debilitating national strikes, as well as protests from both public and private sector workers, who say their pension rights are threatened by Macron’s reforms.

While the government may have acted quickly to avoid the latest scandal spinning into yet another crisis, the misstep has only added to the growing public impression that Macron’s government is “heartless” and unconcerned for the ordinary citizen.

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