Tuesday, March 07, 2006
WORKERS, STUDENTS BRING FRANCE TO A HALT
A bill proposed by centre-right French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and passed by the Senate late Sunday, would allow companies to fire newly hired workers under the age of 26 without justification within two years of their hiring. In response demonstrations are taking place in more than 120 French communities. They are accompanied by strikes in the country's public transport, air traffic, schools, post offices and public employment centres. More than 20 universities have been shut down by students as well.
Francois Hollande, the secretary general of the opposition Socialist Party, said in a Feb. 21 speech at the National Assembly``The First Employment Contract (CPE) isn't one more tool to create employment: it's a tool to destroy permanent jobs. The CPE will progressively become the only access to the labor market for young people, irrespective of their qualification, their salary or their branch of work.''
Workers and students say the law, the CPE, will make it easier for companies to fire young workers, increasing the feeling of insecurity that was seen as one of the root causes of suburban riots last year.
"I would like to say very clearly that we will not allow it to be written in French law that workers can be laid off at a click of the fingers," said Bernard Thibault, head of the CGT, the largest trade union.
AFP and The Tocqueville Connection bring us the following update.
PROTESTS TEST FRENCH GOVERNMENT RESOLVE ON YOUTH JOBS CONTRACT
PARIS, March 7, 2006 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin faced a major challenge from the street Tuesday as students and trade unions staged nationwide protests against a new jobs contract intended to bring down youth unemployment.
Several hundred thousand people took part in demonstrations in all the major cities to demand an end to the First Employment Contract (CPE), a key part of the government's jobs strategy which is supposed to make it more attractive to employers to take on under 26-year-olds.
Several universities including the Sorbonne in Paris were closed, but disruption to rail and air transport was limited.
Claiming more than a million on the streets -- much more than on a first day of action in February -- unions said the mobilisation was a clear success and urged the government to scrap the measure.
Part of a social affairs bill currently being pushed through parliament, the CPE is aimed at cutting France's 23 percent jobless rate among under 26- year-olds -- one of the worst in Europe.
In high-immigration city suburbs, where as many as one in two young people are out of work, joblessness was seen as one of the factors behind last November's riots.
By enabling companies to sack young staff without explanation during the first two years of service, the contract is meant to provide assurance to employers fearful of being lumbered with longterm commitments if a worker proves unsuitable or economic conditions deteriorate.
A similar contract -- but not age-specific -- was introduced for small businesses last year.
But opponents say the CPE will be used by companies as a cheap-rate source of employment, further entrenching job insecurity among the young.
"We are not going to allow the right of companies to fire at the snap of a finger to become entrenched in French law. We are not going to allow France to operate under the same rules as the socially most backward countries," said Bernard Thibault of the CGT trade union.
"We are ready to fight until the CPE is withdrawn. The government is refusing to talk and that suits us fine," said Karl Stoeckel of the UNL students union.
The day of protests was a major test of resolve for Villepin, who after a long political honeymoon since his appointment in mid-2005 has seen his popularity rating fall sharply in recent weeks.
An opinion poll in Les Echos financial daily Tuesday showed that 65 percent of the population believes opposition to the CPE is justified, but the Prime Minister told the newspaper Le Parisien he had no intention of backing down.
"It is time to make decisions and stick by them. I want to convince people so that the country can pass this milestone with confidence. It takes time and perseverance, but the government has both," he said.
According to Education Minister Gilles de Robien "the real worry of the French, and not just the 500,000 who may demonstrate today, is the length of time young people are forced to wait for a job. That is the concern we are trying to answer."
A close ally of President Jacques Chirac, Villepin has been named as a possible candidate to succeed him at next year's presidential elections.
However he has suffered from a number of difficulties, including an unexpected increase in the unemployment rate to 9.6 percent, the health scare over bird flu, and a row over the privatisation of the state-owned gas utility Gaz de France via a merger with the utility company Suez.