People demonstrate in Le Havre northwestern France, on May 26, 2016 to protest against the government's proposed labour reforms. AFP / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU
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French protesters scuffled with police, dock workers set off smoke bombs and union activists disrupted fuel supplies and nuclear plants Thursday in the biggest challenge yet to President Francois Hollande's Cabinet as it tries to give employers more flexibility. On a day of nationwide strikes and protests, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls opened the door to possible changes in the labor bill that's triggering all the anger – but said the government would not abandon it. The draft law, aimed at boosting hiring after a decade of nearly 10-percent unemployment and slow but corrosive economic decline, relaxes rules around the 35-hour work week, weakens the power of unions and leaves workers less protected from layoffs."There could be improvements and modifications" in the bill, Valls said on BFM television Thursday. He didn't elaborate on what might be changed, and insisted that the "heart" of the bill – a measure weakening the power of unions over workplace rules – should remain.In addition to loosening rules about the 35-hour work week, the bill makes it easier to fire workers in times of economic downturn, and weakens the power of unions to set working conditions across an entire sector.
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