French parliament approves youth jobs plan

9th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 9, 2006 (AFP) - France's right-dominated parliament on Thursday approved a controversial new youth jobs contract which earlier this week brought hundreds of thousands of students and workers on to the streets in a major challenge to Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

PARIS, March 9, 2006 (AFP) - France's right-dominated parliament on Thursday approved a controversial new youth jobs contract which earlier this week brought hundreds of thousands of students and workers on to the streets in a major challenge to Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

The First Employment Contract (CPE), which is a key part of the government's strategy to bring down youth unemployment, was voted through the upper house or Senate by 178 to 127 as part of a wider law on equal opportunities.

On Wednesday evening it passed through the lower house, the National Assembly.

A two-year contract for under 26-year-olds which can be terminated without explanation by the employer, the CPE is opposed by the left-wing opposition which has said it will refer the measure to the country's Constitutional Council -- the body that rules on the constitutionality of new laws.

If the council approves the CPE, the first contracts could be signed late April, government officials said.

Opponents say the contract will be used by companies as a cheap-rate source of employment, further entrenching job insecurity among the young. The government says that by giving employers flexibility it will encourage them to take on young staff.

Striking students continued to disrupt more than 30 universities Thursday, two days after nationwide demonstrations against the CPE.

At the historic Sorbonne in Paris -- centre of the May 1968 uprising -- some 100 students occupied lecture-halls overnight and set up barricades of tables and chairs in the corridors, authorities said. CRS riot police were stationed outside.

In the northwest port of Le Havre, a crowd of around 1,000 high-school pupils marched through the city centre shouting anti-government slogans.

Union and student leaders were to meet during the day to discuss the next step in their campaign, with more protests and sit-ins on the agenda for next week.

Business leaders have been reserved about the CPE, which follows a similar but non age-specific contract for use in small companies.

According to a survey in Le Figaro newspaper, some 50 percent of human resources chiefs said they will not use the CPE. Many said the contract was not "socially responsible" and that it would not attract the best candidates for highly competitive jobs.

France has a joblessness rate of 23 percent among under 26-year-olds -- a figure which rises to more than 50 percent in some of the high-immigration city suburbs which were hit by rioting in November.

Employment Minister Gerard Larcher said opponents of the CPE failed to appreciate its importance for the troubled "banlieues."

"Everything is focussed on the students. That's fine. But it is the rioters of November who are the ones without a voice. And the CPE is above all aimed at giving a chance to people who have never come on to the jobs market," he said.

The row over the contract comes at a difficult time for Villepin, a close ally of President Jacques Chirac who has seen his ratings fall sharply in recent weeks.

A survey Thursday showed that 55 percent of the public believe the contract should be withdrawn, but the prime minister has refused to back down.

"We cannot stand with our arms dangling, we have to act," he said Wednesday. "The CPE will give young people a chance of getting a job, of putting a foot in the stirrup."

Drawn up in the wake of November's riots, the equal opportunities bill also includes measures to introduce apprenticeships for 14 year-olds and combat truancy by suspending allowances to parents.

It also mandates anonymous job applications to avoid automatic rejections on the basis of race.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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