-  Tuesday 29 September 2020

    France braces for more protests

    Student groups and unions hope a huge turnout for a fifth day of national protests and strikes will persuade the government to scrap the hire-and-fire law.Last week between 1 million and 3 million people took to the streets of France's largest cities in the biggest protests the nation has seen for decades, news agencies reported.

    French President Jacques Chirac signed the "First Job Contract" into law on Sunday, in a bid to boost a stagnant job market and reduce unemployment among young people, which runs at 22 percent.

    But the president is urging it not be applied until two amendments are approved. One would cut the time in which employers can fire younger workers -- those aged 26 years or younger -- from two years to one. The other would give employees the right to know why they are being fired.

    So far opponents of the law have rejected that compromise attempt. They want it completely repealed.

    As beleaguered Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin chaired a top-level meeting on Monday, the ruling conservative party said it wanted new talks, without taboos, on the new work contract.

    Students and labor unions say the contract will erode France's time-honored workplace protections, while de Villepin has argued that businesses will welcome the added flexibility. Supporters also say it will help push France into the global economy.

    Paris is deploying about 4,000 police to keep order during Tuesday's protest in the capital, The Associated Press quoted the police department as saying, after last week's demonstrations turned violent.

    On Thursday the constitutional court ruled that the jobs bill does not discriminate based on age, and in fact even favors younger workers. The case had been brought before the court by the Socialist Party. (Full story)

    The court also ruled that the argument that the bill would violate international employment union and European Union regulations is a matter for those unions and the EU to decide, not the French court.

    Under French law, merit in the workplace has little sway. Workers cannot be easily or inexpensively fired.

    As a result, employers are reluctant to hire new workers, contributing to an overall French unemployment rate of 9.6 percent.

    On Monday, protesters disrupted air, train and car traffic, AP reported.

    Poll ratings for de Villepin, the champion of the law, have slid to their lowest levels since he took office nearly a year ago, Reuters cited a survey released on Tuesday as saying.


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