-  Saturday 15 August 2020

    France braces for nationwide strike during crucial week in standoff on jobs law

    28 March 2006
    PARIS - French police vowed increased surveillance on the countryТs rail network before nationwide strikes and protests on Tuesday against the governmentТs new youth employment law.

    As police prepared for trouble, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and opponents entered a crucial week in their standoff over the measure meant to encourage hiring, in part by making it easier to fire young workers.

    Widespread disruption to train, plane and subway traffic were expected.

    In a renewed effort to break the standoff, Villepin on Monday made a new offer to meet with students and unions Wednesday, a day after the protests, Уto advance and get out of the current crisis.Ф

    The unions - who want the measure withdrawn before any talks - quickly refused the offer to УimproveФ it. As of Monday night, the only student union to accept the offer to meet was one known for its rightist positions, not considered representative of the student masses.

    A day before the demonstrations, two cars were set on fire during a Monday protest in front of a high school in Seine Saint Denis, police said. The suburban Paris region was the focal point of autumn unrest in immigrant communities that spread across France.

    Unions for national trains operator SNCF urged rank-and-file workers to walk off the job starting Monday evening. The one-day strike was expected to swell to full force as other unions join in Tuesday, when an estimated 200 demonstrations were expected across the country, with the largest winding through Paris. Most protests in the capital have turned violent.

    Paris police said regional and commuter rail networks will be under Уincreased surveillanceФ on Tuesday and that Уpreventive identity checks of individuals susceptible of participating in violenceФ would be authorized.

    Most Air France unions are taking part in the strike. The civil aviation authority said some flights were likely to be canceled.

    In Paris, half of subway trains were expected to run, while greater disruptions were expected on suburban commuter lines, the RATP transport authority said. SNCF said two of three trains were expected.

    The week was shaping up as a critical test for Villepin, who has refused demands to withdraw the labor law, which he insists is needed to bring down sky-high youth unemployment rates. Many opponents fear it will damage coveted job security in France.

    Labor and student groups vowed to press ahead with the strike and more protests unless the government cancels the law, which has sparked violent clashes with police and shut down universities.

    The dispute could weigh on FranceТs presidential elections next year.

    Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who heads VillepinТs conservative party and is seen as a likely contender, took a swipe at the governmentТs handling of the crisis in a major speech Monday.

    A Уspirit of compromiseФ must be found on social issues, he said, and social questions should not be tampered with without a full discussion. The government had pushed the jobs law through parliament without debate.

    The law would let companies dismiss workers under 26 without cause during their first two years on the job - a provision the government hoped would make it easier for employers to hire younger workers. 


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