PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron's government has unveiled plans to make it more difficult for the unemployed to claim benefits, as part of an overhaul of France's labor market that aims to boost the nation's economy.
Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud said Tuesday that the changes were "tough, yet important."
Unions have denounced the plans as unfair and damaging to the country's social security system.
The planned changes extend the period that people have to work to be entitled to unemployment benefits and reduces the amount that wealthier workers can receive after six months out of work.
France's unemployed now get, on average, over 1,000 euros ($1,118) per month —an amount that can reach a maximum of 6,200 euros ($6,936) for two consecutive years.
Another measure plans to penalized companies that use a lot of short-term contracts.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the first goal of the labor changes is "to encourage businesses to hire with long-term contracts" and the second goal is "to change the rules regarding benefits, so that working always pays more than not working."
The French government expects the changes to save 3.4 billion euros ($3.8 billion) over three years and hopes they will reduce unemployment. Unemployment in France fell to 8.7% in the first quarter of the year, its lowest in a decade — yet it still remains among the highest rates in Europe.
The head of the CFDT center-left union, Laurent Berger, denounced the plan as "deeply unfair" and said it "will affect 100% of jobless people."
A leader at the far-left CGT union, Catherine Perret, called for protests against the labor changes.
A demonstration is scheduled next week in front of the unemployment benefits agency in Paris.
Macron's government plans to pass the controversial labor law changes by decree this summer, a procedure that avoids a lengthy debate in parliament.
Key changes to France's labor market —a previous reform in 2017 made it easier to hire and fire French workers — are among the pro-business policies championed by Macron but rejected by anti-government protesters in the yellow vest movement that started last November.
Macron has vowed to keep making such changes to the economy to boost its competitiveness. Another major reform of France's pension system is scheduled to be presented in July.