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France Mulls Law To Let Strikers Ransack Offices

By SARAH DiLORENZO

PARIS (AP) â¿¿ With its long vacations, short hours and myriad workers' rights, France has a reputation for being a hard place to do business. Now add this to the mix: A law working its way through parliament would grant amnesty to workers who have ransacked their company's offices or threatened their bosses during a labor dispute.

Tensions â¿¿ and even confrontation â¿¿ between unions and management have long been the norm in France. Strikes and protests have periodically paralyzed the country. The country saw a raft of "boss-nappings" in 2009 as companies tried to lay off staff during the first wave of the financial crisis. In 2010, workers opposed to raising the retirement age shut down refineries for weeks, choking transport around France.

The new bill, which was written by senators from the Communist and other far left parties, has sparked debate about whether the country, under the leadership of Socialist President Francois Hollande, is becoming more hostile to business.

"Business leaders who have been hearing about this ... whatever the size of their business, are dumbfounded," Laurence Parisot, the head of the country's largest business lobby, Medef, told Europe 1 radio after the Senate passed the bill in late February. In the next few weeks, the bill will be taken up by parliament's lower house, the National Assembly, where parties on the left have a substantial majority.

The amnesty would apply to people who caused property damage, issued threats or defamed management during a labor or housing dispute over the last six years, and were sentenced to five years in prison or less. Acts that caused physical harm to someone else would not be covered. It's unclear how many people would benefit, but French media reported it could be as few as several dozen.

Nonetheless, it sends a worrying signal. As France's neighbors try to get people back to work by enacting deep reforms to make their labor markets more competitive, some economists warn that Europe's second-largest economy risks getting left behind.

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