A set of a bitterly contested labour reforms that have triggered weeks of strikes and protests across France went before lawmakers Tuesday, as the government sought to rouse support for a bill it hopes will ease unemployment.
Opposition to the bill, especially from unions and youth organizations, has been fierce. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest across France, and some small fringe groups have smashed property and scuffled with police.
Speaking to legislators, Labour Minister Myriam El-Khomri said the reforms were aimed at creating flexibility in the workplace to allow firms to adapt to changing economic conditions.
"Yes, we want to allow businesses to better anticipate the conditions leading to the breakdown of work contracts. It's not about deregulating the work place ... it's also not about facilitating dismissals. Who could even believe that? To the contrary: For the first time, it's about defining how they can occur," she said.
While some changes have already been made to the proposed reforms, they are not seen as having enough support in parliament to pass as they are.
The bill includes measures aimed at easing regulations on working hours and changing the rules governing dismissal compensation, but opponents see it as watering down hard-earned protections for workers.
Nevertheless, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French media the government was not particularly in favour of using a constitutional article allowing it to bypass parliament, which he spearheaded last year to push through a series of pro-business rules.
El-Khomri said she expected support in parliament to grow through dialogue, though she added that the government would not "give in to the street" by withdrawing the bill.
Protests and demonstrations organized on Tuesday were smaller than some of the mass marches against the bill in recent weeks, and there were few reports of violence.
Dozens of people have been detained during the protests leading up to the debate. It is considered by many as one of the last big tests of the current Socialist government led by President Francois Hollande, who is fighting flagging approval ratings with elections in one year.