Villepin opens discussionson tackling unemployment

6th June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 6 (AFP) - France's new Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin held urgent consultations with union and business leaders Monday, as debate intensified over whether looser British-style labour laws are the best way to tackle rampant unemployment.

PARIS, June 6 (AFP) - France's new Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin held urgent consultations with union and business leaders Monday, as debate intensified over whether looser British-style labour laws are the best way to tackle rampant unemployment.  

With the country still reeling from the rejection of the EU constitution eight days ago, the prime minister held a series of head-to-heads at his official residence to sound out views on a major new job creation initiative.  

Most "no" voters in France's referendum on May 29 said their main anxiety is the 10.2 percent jobless rate, and President Jacques Chirac - who appointed Villepin last Tuesday - has promised to make the fight against unemployment his new government's top priority.  

Villepin, a 51-year-old Chirac loyalist and former foreign minister, was to set out his programme in a speech to the National Assembly on Wednesday, and has given himself a deadline of 100 days - by early September - to restore public confidence.  

On Sunday the prime minister promised that decisions to boost employment will be taken "before the summer," and said the government would be "without taboos" in its search for solutions.  

Among the ideas being mooted are a reduction in the social charges paid by employers, a new work contract for small businesses, and more training for job-seekers, according to newspaper reports Monday.  

Some voices in the cabinet - led by Villepin's powerful number two Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and Finance Minister Thierry Breton - were also calling for a more radical redrafting of the country's labour code to make it easier for companies to hire and fire.  

French business leaders argue that many companies are deterred from taking on staff because of fears they will be unable to shed labour when their market takes a downturn.  

However union leaders warned that they will resist attempts to reduce protection of the workforce, and said that the main focus of job creation must come through state investment.  

"If the government imagines that the answer to the country's social malaise is to create more insecurity, then it has completely blown it .... If breaking taboos means destroying what we've got and putting nothing back - then we don't want it," said Francois Chereque of the CFDT union.  

The government denied a report in the economic newsletter La Lettre de l'Expansion that Villepin will set an objective of 800,000 new jobs over the next year. Among likely measures are a cut in social charges and public-private partnerships in major infrastructure projects, the newsletter said.  

Much hope was being vested in a EUR 13 billion (USD 16 billion) scheme which was approved by the last government shortly before the constitution referendum. Inspired by Social Cohesion Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, the plan aims to create 500,000 jobs in the service sector by next year.  

The aftermath of the May 29 vote has seen passionate debate over whether France's vaunted social model needs to be protected or reworked. The "no" vote was largely prompted by fears of British-style liberalisation, but critics say over-generous levels of social protection are hampering growth and creating unemployment.

 

© AFP

Subject: French News

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