Macron's government kicks off controversial labor reform

President Emmanuel Macron's government has launched an effort to redesign French labor rules, one of the most important and divisive promises of his presidency.

Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud told RTL radio Wednesday the government is "moving the rules of the game" in hopes of tackling unemployment, hovering near 10 percent.

A draft labor law has been presented at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, and unions fear it strips away hard-earned worker protections. The government proposes to cap the financial penalty for companies sued for firing employees, and to allow businesses more flexibility to define internal working rules.

The government wants to use a special procedure to quickly pass the measures this summer without extended debate in parliament.

Penicaud, a former director of human resources for food-products multinational group Danone, said the reform is "expected by the French, they gave a clear signal of need for change" by electing Macron, a pro-free market centrist.

She insisted the bill could be amended and the government isn't signing itself a "blank check." A total of 48 meetings with workers unions and employers' organizations are scheduled to discuss the reform, she stressed.

The details of the reform are to be presented at the end of August, she said in a news conference.

Following the Cabinet meeting, government spokesman Christophe Castaner stressed to reporters the "importance" of the labor reform as part of a series of measures that will aim at lowering the unemployment rate to 7 percent at the end of Macron's term in 2022.

The CGT union called for a national day of protests and strikes against the labor reform on Sept. 12.

The secretary general of France's main employee union, the CFDT, Laurent Berger, said he's in a "phase of consultation" with the government. "There's no blind trust or widespread distrust," he said on Europe 1 radio.

Previous attempts to loosen France's labor rules, under Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande, drew tens of thousands of people onto the streets for months.