Thursday, March 16, 2006

Marching for mediocrity, at best
French Students Hold New Demonstrations

PARIS (AP) -- Students marched, chanted and whistled in renewed nationwide protests of a new labor law Thursday, as the French government tried to maintain a united front for a pivotal test of its direction.

Tens of thousands of university and high school students turned out for marches in several cities, many wearing T-shirts mocking the government and waving enormous banners demanding the law be repealed.

The escalating protests center on a measure that allows employers to fire young workers within their first two years without giving a reason. This is designed to give employers flexibility, which would encourage them to hire more young people...

The phrase “allows employers to fire young workers within their first two years without giving a reason” in that last paragraph is a distorted characterization of the measure. French employment law makes American civil service employment rules look like “at will” employment and that applies to every job, public or private, in France. For the reader that does not understand this analogy, suffice it to say that for all practical purposes, short of murdering your boss, once you have signed a work contract (mandatory for all but a few jobs in France) to work for an employer in France, you have a job (or nearly equivalent unemployment wage benefits) for life.

The new measure allows a French employer to fire a new hire (who in France is invariably someone in their late teens or early twenties because older people have already secured their “for life” income stream) that is deadweight before that individual becomes yet another permanent anchor stifling the employer’s ability to perform and react to changes in the firm's marketplace.

Some additional perspective: It takes four people in France to do the same work easily accomplished by three workers in the United States and the gap is widening. Worse still, France’s overall unemployment rate is double that in the US.

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