Villepin under pressure to defend youth jobs contract

7th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 7, 2006 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin faced a key test of his resolve to open up the country's labour market on Tuesday, as students and trade unions staged nationwide protests against a new jobs contract for young people.

PARIS, Feb 7, 2006 (AFP) - French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin faced a key test of his resolve to open up the country's labour market on Tuesday, as students and trade unions staged nationwide protests against a new jobs contract for young people.

The centre-right government's First Employment Contract (CPE), which was to be debated in the National Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, is meant to encourage business to take on young workers by loosening the rules under which they can be sacked during the first two years.

But opponents say the change will be exploited by ruthless employers and that French youth will find it harder than ever to obtain permanent employment.

More than 100 demonstrations were being held across the country, with the biggest in Paris during the afternoon expected to draw several leading figures from left-wing opposition parties.

Opinion polls have suggested that the wider public is not convinced by the new measure, with 60 percent telling Les Echos financial daily on Tuesday that the CPE would increase job insecurity for young people and 67 percent describing the day of protests as 'justified'.

But Villepin — who enjoys a clear majority in both houses of parliament — has vowed to press ahead with the legislation, threatening to use an emergency procedure to cut short debate if the opposition resorts to a filibuster this week.

The CPE is the second phase of a government programme to liberalise France's labour code, whose rigidity is often cited by economists as a cause of the country's stubbornly high unemployment — now at 9.5 percent though coming down.

Joblessness among 15- to 24 year-olds reaches 40 percent in some poor areas, and was seen as one of the factors behind November's wave of rioting in high-immigration suburbs.

According to Villepin, French youth spend more time than their European Union neighbours — up to 11 years — before finding stable employment.

But many employers say they are reluctant to take on workers because of the difficulty of firing them if they prove unsuitable or if economic circumstances deteriorate.

Under a New Employment Contract (CNE) introduced in October 2005, companies with fewer than 20 staff are entitled to sack employees in the first two years without fear of legal penalty. The CPE introduces the same terms for larger companies that take on workers under 26 years old.

According to the government, the CPE is a pragmatic measure that offers young people an alternative to the succession of short-term contracts — often of no more than a month — that for many are the only option in the jobs market.

"Never, I repeat never, has a proposal been made that is as beneficial and as protective for the young," Villepin, a likely candidate in next year's presidential election, said on Sunday.

President Jacques Chirac, Villepin's close ally, also publicly backed the measure, describing it as "a real response for opening the doors of employment for young people".

But for France's divided left-wing opposition, the issue is a rare chance to unite in defence of the right to secure employment.

"Every year 800,000 young people are taken on by companies... Now they will be put on the new contracts. This is not a cure for unemployment but a poison that is gradually going to work its way into relations betweem employers and staff," said former socialist labour minister Martine Aubry.

The CPE forms part of a wider equal opportunities law drawn up after November's riots. Other provisions include the right for 14-year-olds to leave school for apprenticeships, tax breaks for companies to invest in poor suburbs and new powers to check racial discrimination.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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