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Macron promises 'ambitious' labour reforms

[PARIS] French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday brushed aside criticism of a rocky start to his term in office and promised "ambitious" labour market reforms on the eve of their unveiling.

In a wide-ranging interview with Le Point weekly, the 39-year-old president - who has seen his approval ratings plummet after storming to power in May - vowed to push on with an overhaul of France's rigid labour laws.

"We are the only major economy in the European Union that has not defeated mass unemployment for more than three decades," the former investment banker said.

"The reform of the labour market is a reform of deep transformation and, as I've promised, it will have to be ambitious and efficient enough to continue to bring down mass unemployment so that we won't have to come back to this subject during my term."

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Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is due on Thursday to announce the planned overhaul of the labour code, designed to give employers more flexibility to negotiate pay and conditions with their workers.

The reforms are the cornerstone of Mr Macron's plans to liberalise the economy to try to spur growth and drive down an unemployment rate at 9.5 per cent.

But he faces the threat of mass protests, with the CGT, France's biggest trade union, already announcing a day of nationwide strikes and protests for Sept 12.

Mr Macron, who is overhauling his communications strategy after triggering criticism for seeming aloof, acknowledged that some voters were disappointed with his government's actions so far.

"I'll have to live with people's impatience for the next few months," he said, dismissing the recently passed milestone of 100 days in office as "irrelevant".

Elsewhere, he promised further cuts to a housing allocation grant for low-income households - a five euro (S$8.06) reduction per month had already sparked criticism from the left - but promised this would be part of a "profound transformation that will bring down rents" overall.

And he pledged to "launch an education revolution", notably by scrapping a lottery for university slots.