May 14, 2007 / 12:43 PM / 12 years ago

Sarkozy meets unions on labour reforms

PARIS (Reuters) - French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy discussed labour reforms with union and business leaders on Monday, showing his determination to act quickly on his campaign manifesto even before taking office.

France's President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy (L) escorts French CGT labour union leader Bernard Thibault as he leaves after a meeting in Paris May 14, 2007. Sarkozy discussed labour reforms with union and business bosses on Monday, in an unprecedented burst of activity before taking office designed to underscore his determination to act quickly. REUTERS/Jacques Witt/Pool

Sarkozy becomes president on Wednesday after winning the May 6 election with a promise to shake up France’s hidebound economy, notably by curbing strikes in public sector monopolies and reforming restrictive labour laws.

“In the coming days, I will take important decisions for our country. I will do so in a spirit of unification, justice and efficiency,” Sarkozy said after the meetings, addressing his UMP party in his first public speech since election night.

Commentators said the union talks reflected a desire to avoid the sort of prolonged street protests that have sunk previous reform drives.

Sarkozy has a reputation as a tough authoritarian and unions have warned him that his comprehensive election victory does not give him a mandate to rush through change.

“Taking decisions all on your own leads more to trouble than to reforms,” Francois Chereque, leader of the moderate CFDT union, told RTL radio.

Sarkozy has said he will allow France’s “social partners” — unions and business leaders — to negotiate the details of some reforms so long as they meet his goals in a realistic timeframe.

Bernard Van Craeynest, head of the CFE-CGC union, said labour groups would not let themselves be bullied.

“We do not have a knife at our throat,” he told reporters.

Business daily Les Echos said Monday’s meetings were “incredibly rare for a president and totally unprecedented for a president before taking office.”

“The signal that he is ‘listening’ is important for the president-elect, who is seeking to balance his desire to act quickly and lead from the front ... with respect for social dialogue that he promised during the election campaign.”

An early test of his resolve will come with his plan for a minimum service during transport strikes. Unions say a plan for three hours of service during the morning and evening rush hours will not work and some economists doubt its benefits.

Sarkozy is due to unveil his government shortly after he takes office and he told the UMP that he would reach out beyond his camp to build a team that fully represented France.

“If we want to be worthy of the French people’s trust, we must broaden and not shrink. The French people’s message is a message of unification,” he said.

As expected, Sarkozy stepped down as head of the UMP to let him focus on the presidency.

Outgoing President Jacques Chirac will make his final address to the nation on Tuesday evening.

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