Villepin says he's ready to talk, but not to repeal CPE

24th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 24, 2006 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin held talks with trade unions Friday to defuse a mounting crisis over his youth jobs programme but he refused to withdraw the contested contract, union leaders said.

PARIS, March 24, 2006 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin held talks with trade unions Friday to defuse a mounting crisis over his youth jobs programme but he refused to withdraw the contested contract, union leaders said.

"The only thing we've got is that (Villepin) will see the organisations of high-school and university students, and that meeting will take place — at our insistence — tomorrow morning," said Bernard Thibault of the CGT union.

Unions and student groups have staged two weeks of protests against Villepin's First Employment Contract (CPE) -- a contract for under 26 year-olds that can be terminated during a two year trial period without justification.

The prime minister "can see that (the contract) cannot be sustained in its current state, but he wants to improve its provisions. We think it is impossible to improve anything because at the end of the day the CPE is no longer viable," Thibault said.

The heads of five unions were invited to the prime minister's official residence at Hôtel Matignon in the early afternoon, where they were expected to repeat their demand for withdrawal of the government's contested First Employment Contract (CPE).

However doubts emerged over the encounter after unions insisted that Villepin receive all 12 union and student organisations that have been running the campaign of opposition. Villepin's office said it was impossible and that the prime minister would see student leaders next week.

The scheduled talks came after Villepin, 52, sent a letter offering open-agenda talks — his first sign of giving ground since the campaign against the CPE began in earnest more than two weeks ago.

A fourth day of nationwide demonstrations on Thursday led to more scenes of violence in Paris, where gangs of masked youths set alight cars and smashed  windows by the Invalides esplanade. Across the country police made 630 arrests.

A further day of strikes and protests has been organised by unions for Tuesday.

Commentators said the room for manoeuvre between Villepin and his opponents was tight, with the prime minister continuing to insist he cannot repeal the law.

The CPE was passed by parliament two weeks ago and now is awaiting approval by constitutional experts before coming into force.

"Is this a real opening? Or is it — as some newspapers are saying — that the unions mustn't suppose they are going to have the CPE withdrawn because the prime minister will never do it. In that case the meeting will be very brief," said Jean-Claude Mailly of the Workers' Force (FO) union.

The CPE is an open-ended contract for under 26-year-olds that can be terminated without motivation during the first two years.

Villepin says it is a vital tool to bring down youth unemployment — which is more than 50 percent in the high-immigration suburbs hit by riots late last year and some 23 percent nationwide.

But opponents say it is a breach of hard-won labour rights and will make it more difficult than ever for young people to find permanent employment.

In order to save face Villepin may ask unions and employers to reach sector-by-sector agreements to soften some of the law's terms, French newspapers conjectured.

Speaking in Brussels, President Jacques Chirac said the law had to be applied but said adjustments were possible via negotiation.

"There shouldn't be any ultimatums. When a law has been voted, it should be applied. Though that does not mean the government can't discuss the modalities," Chirac said.

A new opinion poll Thursday showed that 66 percent of the public want the CPE withdrawn, a fall of two points on a week ago.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy — Villepin's main political rival —  has warned of the climate of lawlessness spreading to the country's city poor  suburbs and reigniting the riots that raged for three weeks in November.

On Friday 15 of the country's 84 universities were shut and 42 others were experiencing disturbances as a result of student strikes, according to government figures.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news


 

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