Employers association elects first woman as head

5th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 5 (AFP) - The French employers' association Tuesday appointed a woman as its president for the first time, and she immediately called for modernizing the country's labour laws amid public anger over France's uncertain economic future.

PARIS, July 5 (AFP) - The French employers' association Tuesday appointed a woman as its president for the first time, and she immediately called for modernizing the country's labour laws amid public anger over France's uncertain economic future.

Laurence Parisot, the chief executive of the polling institute Ifop, was overwhelmingly approved by the MEDEF's general assembly in Paris for a five-year term, garnering an absolute majority from delegates in the first round of voting.

Parisot, who had been the frontrunner going into the assembly, received 271 votes out of 508 ballots cast in the race to succeed Ernest-Antoine Seilliere, in charge of MEDEF since it replaced the previous bosses' association in 1998.

Seilliere announced the results at the general assembly in Paris, embracing the 45-year-old Parisot on stage as the delegates -- only 18 of them women -- applauded loudly.

The new head of MEDEF, in a speech after her election to delegates, spoke of the need for reforms of the sputtering French economy, hampered by unemployment stuck around 10 percent, largely stagnant wages and a growing feeling of uncertainty among the French on the direction their country is taking.

At a news conference Tuesday, Parisot said MEDEF would propose changes to the French labour code that would improve the situation of small companies in particular regarding the hiring of new employees.

"For a small company, hiring an additional staff member can sometimes become a mortal risk," she said in allusion to the high social costs and strict rules on firing in France. "We have to give more importance to (hiring new people) so we can see its rapid and significant effect on unemployment."

Earlier she argued for reforming the union representation system in France. "We are living in a confused social democracy, perhaps even an illusory one," she told delegates.

But she also stressed the need for social dialogue "with strong, constructive and representative unions."

Reaction from the unions was swift, with a top official of the left-of-centre CGT, Maryse Dumas, saying she welcomed Parisot's election while stressing that the CGT had "many disagreements with her."

France's minister for equality, Catherine Vautrin, saw the election of Parisot as a "powerful symbol" for women's rights in France, particularly of women in leadership positions.

"For the first time, a woman has been elected to head this organization, a strong symbol for our country's movement towards more professional equality between women and men."

Parisot beat two other candidates, Yvon Jacob, of mechanical engineering group Legris, and Huges-Arnaud Mayer, the president of textile company Abeil. Jacob gained 150 votes and Mayer 85. There were two abstentions.

In contrast to her calls for smaller government, greater labour flexibility and more corporate activism, Jacob struck a more conciliatory tone during his speech to delegates.

He called for MEDEF to "convince rather than provoke" and suggested a more modest profile for the organisation without compromising its objectives of reducing the constraints on entrepreneurship in France.

On the same day as Parisot's election, a study commissioned in part by MEDEF revealed that a mere 4.5 percent of women held leadership positions in French companies last year -- the figure dropped to 3.4 percent when averaged out over the last 20 years.

The annual survey of some 13,000 French companies by Top Management, showed that women were most likely to head up marketing and communications departments (36 percent), personnel (25 percent) and administration and finance (15 percent).

The association itself was not very popular among the French, with 56 percent of those surveyed in a poll expressing dissatisfaction with MEDEF.

The survey, by CSA polling institute for the communist newspaper L'Humanite and the magazine La Nouvelle Vie Ouvriere, showed more than two out of three people lacked confidence the association would work to boost their salaries or fight against companies moving jobs abroad.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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