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France’s disposable young workers

by Archives March 15, 2006

This past week, France demonstrated to the rest of the world how not to deal with rising rates of youth unemployment. Last Thursday France’s conservative government parliament, headed by Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, adopted “le contrat de premiere embauche” (CPE), or the First Employment Contract. It passed with a 178-127 vote by senators Monday.

The CPE is Villepin’s way of dealing with France’s high youth unemployment, which is at least double the country’s regular unemployment rate. The national average is 9.6 per cent, but for youth aged 18 to 25, it’s over 20 per cent. Canada’s youth employment rate is significantly less at 11.4 per cent, compared with our national average of 6.4 per cent.

The problem with the CPE bill is that it is unlikely to have its desired effect. In fact, it may do more to harm young unemployed people’s situations than to help them. Basically the CPE is legislation that will allow businesses to hire people under age 26 and fire them without any kind of justification for up to two years. Youth will all be hired under this “First Employment Contract,” which offers no form of job security. The idea, apparently, is to entice employers to take on these inexperienced young workers risk-free by allowing bosses to fire them at any time in the first couple years of employment. How exactly does this help young people?

There is obviously a problem with youth unemployment that needs to be dealt with in France, but discriminating against youth and undervaluing their contributions is no way to fix the issue. Age does not determine whether someone is a good worker or not.

Students and concerned teachers are not taking the bill sitting down. Last week there were peaceful rallies across the country, in about half of France’s universities. According to the BBC, at least 35 cities were affected and several thousand teachers participated.

Sorbonne University in Paris was home to a large protest that turned violent on Friday. There were about 200 students, teachers, and others who participated in a sit-in that started last Wednesday, the day before the bill was approved. It lasted until police raided the school with tear gas at dawn Saturday.

Villepin is right to believe that France’s high youth employment rates need to be remedied, but as demonstrated by students, unions, teachers, and left-wing organizations throughout the country, the new CPE is not the answer. If the problem is with young people getting jobs, the government should talk to young people, as well as those who hire them, to seek a solution.

The First Employment Contract will only create instability in youth employment and will have a negative effect on the individuals who are hired under its unfair conditions. As young people get older, this introduction to the working world will stay with them and will have an impact on future generations. A problem like this is not so easily solved.

Rather than accept the CPE with Villepin’s proposed “guarantees” – to ensure the negative effects will be minimal – the government should go back to the drawing board. And this time, they should consult those most affected by youth unemployment – the youth.

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