Riots greet French government's labor reform

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Student protests against the French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin job reform plan to give employers the right to dismiss young employees within the initial two years of their employment turned increasingly violent over the last two weeks.

The controversial program called the CPE, "First Job Contract", is to encourage employers to hire people under the age of 26. The French government claims that this process is necessary to reduce the unemployment rates of young people, which is pegged as high as 23% (this rate is the quotient of the number of people under 26 deemed to seek employment over the total of those employed and deemed to seek employment, which excludes the large proportion of students in that population). However, student protestors and trade unions say that the legislation infringes on workers' rights, and opinion polls show that some two-thirds of the population want the CPE either modified or dropped altogether.

The CPE allows employers to hire people age 26 and younger on a contract for up to two years which may be terminated at any time without explanation. While supporters of the law say that it will make younger people more attractive for employers, opponents say it makes it harder for young people to find long-term employment as there is no incentive for employers to offer any other form of contract.

Labour unions and student organisers are calling for a national strike on Tuesday, the fifth strike in the past two weeks.

The French labor laws are claimed to be among those protecting employees the most in Europe; they prevent employers from trimming their workforces without paying substantial severance packages. Prime Minister de Villepin's claims to intend to reduce youth unemployment by focusing on attracting modern industries relying on higher employee turnover and more flexible employment arrangements.

The current program is similar to the CNE ordinance the Prime Minister issued last summer for small businesses in France.

CPE was adopted under an exceptional "fast-track" procedure allowing the executive to pass legislation through Parliament without Parliament having to approve it, known as "49-3" following from the number of the relevant article in the French Constitution. This procedure is normally reserved for important but controversial texts considered a crucial and urgent element of the policies of the Prime Minister. Once 49-3 is declared, the law is considered adopted by Parliament unless the National Assembly votes a motion of censure, which terminates the Prime Minister and his cabinet's term. Following standard practice when 49-3 is used, a motion of censure was proposed by the opposition, then voted down by the Assembly (in which the ruling UMP party has a majority).

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