France ready to move past the youth jobs crisis

13th April 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 13, 2006 (AFP) - The French parliament definitively killed off the government's contested youth contract on Thursday, as the upper house Senate rubber-stamped a revised jobs law replacing the measure.

PARIS, April 13, 2006 (AFP) - The French parliament definitively killed off the government's contested youth contract on Thursday, as the upper house Senate rubber-stamped a revised jobs law replacing the measure.

The law replacing the First Employment Contract (CPE), abandoned this week following weeks of strikes and protests, had been approved by the lower house National Assembly on Wednesday.

Unions, which were threatening more protests unless the law was dropped before the start of parliament's Easter recess on April 17, had warned that they would remain "vigilant" until the new text was voted.

Bowing to two months of protests, President Jacques Chirac agreed Monday to scrap Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's youth contract, which would have made it easier to fire young workers during a two-year period.

Instead, companies will be granted subsidies for recruiting 16- to 25-year-olds with low qualifications, or coming from one of 750 disadvantaged neighbourhoods — many of which were hit by youth riots last November.

France's National Assembly on Wednesday approved the measures that will replace the CPE — a system of state subsidies for employers who take on young staff with low qualifications or coming from difficult areas. The bill was passed by 151 votes to 93, in a lower house National Assembly dominated by the ruling centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP.

The measures are set to cost EUR 450 million over two years, according to government estimates.

Designed by Villepin to combat France's youth unemployment rate of 22 percent, one of the highest in Europe, the CPE was part of a broader law on equal opportunities drawn up following last year's riots.

But it was seen by critics as an attack on France's job protection system, and accused of worsening job insecurity.

A coalition of unions, student groups and the entire left-wing opposition mounted France's biggest street campaign in 20 years against the CPE, drawing more than a million people into the streets on several occasions.

At its height, the protest movement caused the total or partial closure of two-thirds of France's 84 universities.

University life was returning to normal across most of the country Thursday, though several faculties — such as Rennes and Nantes in the northwest — were still disrupted by groups of die-hard protestors.

Paris police on Thursday lifted a security cordon set up a month ago around the historic Sorbonne University after it was invaded by students protesting over a now-defunct job reform.

Riot police were sent in to evacuate the university — a key symbol of the May 1968 student uprising — after it was invaded by hundreds of protestors on March 10.

The Sorbonne neighbourhood, in the heart of the Latin Quarter, was a focal point of two months of protests against the First Employment Contract (CPE), which several times descended into clashes between youths and riot police.

The prestigious university had remained closed since the student occupation, the entire area cordoned off with high metal barriers. It is now due to reopen on April 24 after the Easter academic break.

At its height, the union and student protest movement caused the total or partial closure of two-thirds of France's 84 universities.

Both Grenoble university in the southeast and Nancy university in the east — two hotbeds of student resistance to the jobs scheme — voted to end their blockade of classes.

Chirac called Wednesday for classes to resume at the 17 universites still disrupted to some degree, including two — in southern Montpellier and Toulouse — still closed down entirely.

"It took three months of mobilisation, by parliament, workers and students, for the government and majority to realise they were heading down a blind alley," said the Socialists' parliamentary leader, Jean-Marc Ayrault. "These were three lost months, but in future nothing will be the same again: for a prime minister to decide things alone and without negotiating with unions — that is finished."

Villepin has faced tough criticism for bringing in the CPE without consulting trade unions — with even his own camp acknowledging his method may have set back future reforms until after next year's presidential election.

Within the centre-right, the debacle has brought about a power shift that is expected to weigh on next year's vote, with both Chirac and his protege and chosen successor Villepin seen as badly weakened.

Chirac told Wednesday's weekly cabinet meeting he had acted in order "to get out of a situation of blockage and to keep moving forwards on the fight against unemployment".

"I wanted this out of concern for order and appeasement," he was quoted as saying by the presidency.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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