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France's Sarkozy calls for compromise over jobs law

Written by: Staff

PARIS, Mar 25: France's interior minister today urged the government to find a compromise to defuse a crisis over a new youth labour law that has triggered mass protests and sporadic riots.

Nicolas Sarkozy, a self-declared candidate for the 2007 presidential elections, expressed understanding for the young demonstrators in a speech at a meeting of his UMP party.

''Twenty years of mass unemployment, 15 years of mediocre economic growth, 10 years of sluggish purchasing power, seven political changes since 1981 -- how can we blame the young for saying out loud what their parents think?'' he said.

Sarkozy was clearly seeking to distance himself from Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who is also expected to run in next year's election and who held unsuccessful talks with labour union leaders on the row yesterday.

''Knowing to find a compromise, that is being courageous and useful to France. That is what the UMP demands and expects,'' Sarkozy said.

''When young people see (the law) as unjust, it is necessary to remove misunderstandings by organising the conditions for dialogue and compromise,'' he added.

The row over the CPE First Job Contract, which allows employers to fire people under 26 without giving a reason during a two-year trial period, is one of the biggest crises in Villepin's 10-month administration.

In a setback for Villepin, most student leaders refused to come to a meeting he had called for today.

Of seven student leaders, three went inside for talks while the others held a brief news conference in front of Villepin's Matignon office, calling for the withdrawal of the law proposal and for a massive turnout at planned protests on Tuesday.

Villepin said he wanted to find a solution via dialogue.

''I want to respond to the two main preoccupations of the young about the CPE -- the period of two years and the conditions of ending the contract,'' he said after the talks, adding more meetings with the students were planned next week.

PM UNDER PRESSURE Villepin, who rammed the measure through parliament, says the CPE will help cut youth unemployment of around 23 per cent.

Opponents say the contract will create a generation of throwaway young workers with no job security.

Last Thursday, rampaging youths torched cars, looted shops and robbed student demonstrators at the end of protest marches in Paris and major provincial cities.

Signalling splits within the government, Sarkozy on Thursday called for a six-month trial period for the CPE, which has highlighted rivalries ahead of the presidential election.

''What we need to do is to come up with answers,'' he said today.

''All this needs to end as soon as possible, because every day that goes by adds to the conditions for a confrontation ... and maybe for a drama.'' Bernard Thibault, head of the CGT Communist trade union, said the only way out was to withdraw the law.

''I fear that today the government is only trying to win time ...

with the hope that perhaps public opinion will forget the main reason of objection, which is the refusal of yet another attack on the labour laws,'' he told Europe 1 radio.


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