Villepin jobs plan fails to stir France

9th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 9 (AFP) - A new plan by French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to tackle chronically high unemployment was met with a mix of cautious approval and outright condemnation Thursday.

PARIS, June 9 (AFP) - A new plan by French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to tackle chronically high unemployment was met with a mix of cautious approval and outright condemnation Thursday.  

Reactions in the conservative press generally sided with the raft of proposals unveiled in parliament Wednesday by Villepin, whom President Jacques Chirac tapped to head his right-wing government immediately following voters' rejection of the EU constitution in a referendum held May 29.  

But left-wing newspapers joined unions in denouncing the measures, particularly one that would bring in a new sort of labour contract under which a worker would be subject to a trial period of two years.  

Villepin, a 51-year-old Chirac loyalist respected for his eloquence, promised to simplify hiring procedures for small- and medium-sized businesses, turn special attention to getting youths and those over 50 into the workforce, and press on with the privatisation of formerly state-run companies.  

He said income tax cuts promised by Chirac would be suspended to help pay for the EUR 4.5 billion (USD 5.5 billion) cost of the employment programme, which would include cutting steep payroll taxes in small firms.  

The new labour contract was designed to loosen France's rigid labour market in which employers prefer to offer short-term contracts and suffer high staff turnover rather than give permanent contracts under which it is extremely difficult to fire workers.  

Liberation, a left-wing daily, said the plan "will make (economic) liberals and bosses happy" but would create tensions with France's powerful unions - one of which, the CGT, has already called for a June 21 mass street demonstration in opposition.  

Le Figaro, a conservative daily generally sympathetic to Chirac's government, noted that several of Villepin's initiatives were already in the pipeline before his speech. And that, overall, the general policy of heavy labour protections and high taxes that hobble France's economy will not change.  

"France is not changing direction. By the looks of it, Dominique de Villepin's policy is not one of making a break but rather one of making changes while maintaining continuity," it said, ending on wait-and-see note as to whether the measures would make a difference to the country's 10.2 percent unemployment rate.  

A financial daily, Les Echos, hailed the new temporary labour contract as "a real little revolution". But it remonstrated that no reforms of the public sector, education system or taxation were forthcoming.  

"With employment in mind, the prime minister forgot that that also depends on the general competitivity of the country. But maybe that was just a simple omission," it said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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