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Laboring Over Reforms in Paris

Mar
21
2006

It looks like the spring of discontent in Paris may be a long one.

Why? Many previous student uprisings in France — 1986, 1994, 2004 — were for equally unpopular government proposals.

Proposals being the key word: after massive public outcry, officals took heed and backed down.

Unfortunately, the new work contract under fire is already law. And Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has opted not to withdraw it and now must weather a national strike.

The fuss is over the First Employment Contract, or CPE, designed to get people in the highest unemployment bracket, those under 26, into the work market. Called the “easy-hire-easy-fire” law by critics, new hires can let go at any time, without reason, in the first two years on the job.

From your end of the pond it probably seems like beaucoup de bruit pour rien — it’s hardly the American way to expect a job and certainly not to expect or demand a job for life.

This isn’t one of those you say potato, I say potatoh issues. As a Dutch expat on this BBC forum writes:
“I think Europe (and France) are at crossroads now: how do we preserve quality of life (“work to live”) versus competitiveness (“live to work”).

His American counterpart replies: “…How narrow minded do you have to be not to realize that reducing the risk to employers for taking a chance on hiring a youger worker will result in more youth being hired? This is only common sense. The only people who oppose this are those entrenched in the socialist/ communist mindset that promises a job for life, regardless of how inept you are. Keep it up, it means more jobs for the USA!”

Europeans aren’t ready to let go of the “right to work” concept — meaning a steady, long-term income where the worker, more or less, can’t be fired. It is what their parents had and what unions have convinced them is the natural order of things.

Germans, too, have been striking for the last seven weeks over a proposed rise in work hours and cut in bonuses.

The hullabaloo across the Alps come at a time when Italians are having uneasy commemorations for the last technocrat who changed Italian labor law, Marco Biagi.
He was gunned down four years ago on March 19 for introducing apprenticeship contracts similar to those in France and the law that carries his name is still hotly debated

The reforms weren’t a magic solution to the stagnant job market. When the US-style laws promising job flexibility and more opportunites for young people met the Italian reality, strange things happened. A friend of mine here, for example, worked full time as a system administrator for a large multinational company. He was not hired by the company, but by a temp agency that renewed his contract every three months. This went on for years, until he was finally hired by a company that more or less outsources employees for companies who need, but don’t want to take on, full-time employees. The benefit of this bizarre arrangement, he says, is complete detachment to nearly everything that goes on at work. He has a job for life, but not a permanent workplace.

Share  Posted by Nicole Martinelli at 9:45 AM | Permalink

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