Students step up pressure over jobs contract

13th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 13, 2006 (AFP) - French students and unions vowed to step up the pressure over a contested youth jobs contract Monday, after Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin refused to give way to a growing movement of opposition.

PARIS, March 13, 2006 (AFP) - French students and unions vowed to step up the pressure over a contested youth jobs contract Monday, after Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin refused to give way to a growing movement of opposition.

Nearly 40 universities across the country were hit by partial or total shutdown, ahead of three days of planned street demonstrations on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Tensions were reported between strikers and students wishing to continue their studies, and the authorities in some establishments were arranging secret ballots to determine the balance of opinion.

On Sunday Villepin appeared on national television in a bid to defuse the growing sense of crisis over the First Employment Contract (CPE) — an open-ended contract for under 26 year-olds which can be terminated within the first two years without explanation.

The prime minister said the law — which cleared its way through parliament last week — would come into effect as planned, but he promised new "guarantees" over training and severance pay.

Opponents on Monday angrily condemned Villepin's intervention, and promised to maintain their campaign till the CPE is dropped.

"He said that the law will be applied. My reply is that the street will speak. You can't put out a forest fire with a glass of water…The mobilisation will grow. The prime minister has been weakened, and if we push a bit more he will give way," said Bruno Julliard of the UNEF student union.

High-school students and young people no longer in education were being urged to join the protests, Julliard said.

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

But opponents — who include all the left-wing political parties — argue that the contract will be used for cheap-rate labour and make it harder for young people to get long-term employment.

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.

In a highly symbolic development, riot police on Saturday morning used force to evacuate the historic Sorbonne university in Paris, centre of the May 1968 uprising. The Sorbonne remained closed Monday with a large police contingent stationed outside.

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

"As head of government can I seriously not take account of this situation of insecurity for young people, which has been getting worse for 20 years now. Can we sit there without doing anything in response?" Villepin said in his television interview.

Newspapers reacted to the latest developments according to political allegiance.

The left-wing Libération said that Villepin was "on a tight-rope .... By digging in his heels he is playing high stakes — not just for his own future but for the future of social dialogue in this country."

But the right-wing Le Figaro said the demonstrators were France's true conservatives "because they want nothing to change and defend the status quo.

"But the status quo as everyone knows works for the sole advantage of a selfish generation happily ensconced in the world of work, excluding the young and anyone over 50 who is unlucky enough to lose his job," it said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article