French employers' chief steps up re-election fight

PARIS (Reuters) - Laurence Parisot stepped up her controversial bid for a new term to head France's powerful employers' group Medef on Tuesday, rejecting criticism that she was bending the rules to stay at the helm.

Parisot, who in January negotiated with French trade unions a ground-breaking accord to overhaul the country's rigid labour rules, should normally step down in July after having served a maximum of two mandates.

However, to the ire of some rivals, she has sought the right to stand for a third term - a request that won initial backing from a Medef committee on its internal statutes this week but which must still be approved by a general meeting of members.

"I think everyone, including my rivals, agrees I have done a good job," Parisot, who is also chief executive of France's IFOP polling institute, told a news conference.

"How can I have that sort of praise and then be called a kind of dictator? It doesn't make sense," she added, rejecting criticism by one rival, French industrial sector federation chief Pierre Gattaz, that she was bending the rules.

Parisot said, if re-elected, she would defend France's post-World War Two system known as "paritarisme" under which employers and unions negotiate as equals on labour issues.

While not as extensive as Germany's co-determination regime under which workers can have a direct say in the running of companies, that system at least secured the January 11 deal which President Francois Hollande now intends to use as the basis for a reform of French labour rules later this year.

The deal introduces new arrangements similar to the "flexi-security" model of countries such as Denmark, allowing firms more flexibility to adjust headcount in downturns but offering more security to workers on short-term contracts.

Medef's executive committee is to decide on March 28 whether Parisot has the right to stand again, a decision which in turn must be approved by an annual general meeting in late-April.

(Reporting by Mark John; editing by Ingrid Melander)