Chirac backs Villepin on youth jobs contract

14th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 14, 2006 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac rallied behind his embattled Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on Tuesday as students protesting across France demanded the scrapping of a contested youth jobs plan.

PARIS, March 14, 2006 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac rallied behind his embattled Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on Tuesday as students protesting across France demanded the scrapping of a contested youth jobs plan.

"It is obvious that I fully support, without reservation, the action taken by the prime minister and the French government," Chirac told reporters at a Franco-German summit in Berlin.

Students, unions and the political left have united in opposition to the First Employment Contract (CPE), which aims to persuade employers to hire more young people by making it easier to fire them in the first two years.

The escalating protests are Villepin's most serious test since taking office and threaten to undermine his hopes for next year's presidential election.

More demonstrations were planned across the country on Tuesday, with students planning to march on the National Assembly in Paris, while students and labour groups have called for major street protests Thursday and Saturday.

The Socialist party was also due Tuesday to file a petition challenging the measure before France's highest court, the Constitutional Council.

The protest movement brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets last Tuesday, followed by sit-ins and strikes and most of France's 85 universities.

Last weekend, police used tear gas to evacuate youths from Paris' Sorbonne university, while another group of protestors was evicted from the building of the elite College de France teaching institution overnight Monday.

Seventeen French university faculties were entirely shut down by students and striking staff, and some 30 more were facing disruptions, with protests spreading to a number of high schools in the capital.

Nanterre university outside Paris — where the May 1968 student protests first broke out — was closed and its buildings occupied by several hundred students.

The CPE is an open-ended contract for under 26-year-old youths that allows employers to fire them without having to give an explanation in the first two years.

The government says it is intended to encourage employers to take on young people by removing the fear that they could be stuck with a long-term commitment if the worker proves unsuitable or if economic conditions deteriorate.

Opponents argue that the contract will be used for cheap-rate labour and make it harder for young people to get long-term employment.

Villepin appeared on national television on Sunday in a bid to defuse the crisis over the CPE and said the law — which cleared its way through parliament last week — would come into effect as planned, although he promised new "guarantees" over training and severance pay.

A spokeswomen for the ruling Union for a Popular Movement said the UMP — including its leader Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, Villepin's chief rival to represent the centre-right in next year's election — was united behind the prime minister.

Speaking to a group of UMP lawmakers, however, Sarkozy said the government needed to be "firm" but "not overly rigid" on the employment measures — and warned against "breaking off the dialogue with French society".

Laurence Parisot, the head of the MEDEF employers' federation, called for the CPE to be implemented and for talks to begin immediately between labour leaders and employers on providing the necessary guarantees to employees.

She also called for a wider debate on "reforming our labour market, which is dysfunctional in many ways".

Parisot hailed Villepin as "perhaps the first of our prime ministers to have made a very clear choice, necessary and courageous — that of fighting unemployment".

France has one of Europe's highest youth unemployment rates, with 23 percent of all young jobseekers out of work and one in two in some of the poor high-immigration city suburbs that were hit by November's riots.

In an editorial, the right-wing Le Figaro newspaper argued that the protests revealed a deep malaise among French youth facing an uncertain future.

"It is the first time, for generations, that young people have the sense that they will live less well than their parents did," wrote the paper.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article