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France to tackle work hours in 2016 in first step of labour code revamp

PARIS (Reuters) - France will begin reforming the cherished labour code early next year by tackling the way companies can adjust working hours, the government said on Wednesday, in what is likely to be one of the last major policy drives of the Socialists’ term.

Copies of French Labour Code are displayed in a specialized bookshop in Paris, France, November 3, 2015. The French government will propose legislation to simplify over-complex labour laws and promote more collective bargaining accords at a sectoral level, draft legislation will be proposed by year-end after talks between labour unions and employers. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Although the government expects a re-draft of the 3,800 pages of the labour code to take several years, a revamp of the 125 pages on working hours will be presented as soon as the first quarter of 2016.

The government has pledged not to unstitch statutes stating that the legal work week is 35 hours, which will be part of a framework of rights that will remain enshrined in law and not modifiable by employers and unions.

However, issues such as the adjustment of working hours over a day, a week or a year, rest time and paid leave or overtime pay will be adjustable by companies through collective agreements, the government said.

“This will be an ambitious reform, which will profoundly change our labour code,” the new labour minister, Myriam El Khomri, said in parliament. “It doesn’t mean fewer rights, but we have to take responsibility for this clarification.”

El Khomri and Prime Minister Manuels Valls unveiled the plans to simplify the labour laws following recommendations made by a top civil servant in September.

“Without delay, the government makes the choice to re-write in the proposed bill the essential part of the labour code dedicated to working hours, rest and paid leave,” a document distributed by the government said.

France, where unemployment remains stubbornly high at a near record 10 percent, has promised to speed up structural reforms demanded by its European Union partners in exchange for more leeway on deficit reduction.

Presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in 2017 and President Francois Hollande only has a small window of opportunity to push through reforms that can have a visible impact on growth and jobs before then and give him a chance to be re-elected.

But with a regional election in December looming, the government’s reform zeal has appeared shakier.

In the space of a few days, the government has backtracked on a raft of planned public spending cuts, shelving minor reforms of disability and housing benefits, and pledging to repay pensioners who have seen sharp increases in local taxes.

Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry and Michel Rose; Editing by Alison Williams