Chirac's Move on Jobs Law Doesn't End Protests

Opponents who have protested for weeks against a French job law reject President Jacques Chirac's compromise. The measure would make it easier for employers to fire younger workers.

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French President Jacques Chirac announcement last night that he will amend the controversial new job law has failed to placate angry students and union trade leaders. Mr. Chirac said he'll sign that law, but also change it by permitting businesses to fire workers under 26 years old within the first year of being hired rather than the first two that was originally proposed. Reporter Eleanor Beardsley joins us from Paris. Eleanor, thanks for being with us.


Good morning.

SIMON: Also we're told employers are now going to have to justify why they would fire an employee. Why does nobody seem to be placated?

BEARDSLEY: Well, because they, the unions and the students set the bar at withdrawing the measure. And that's what they wanted to see. They said no dialogue with this measure, which they feel was underhandedly snuck in and passed without their concern, and it's become a real power struggle. The sides are entrenched now and they can't back down anymore. The big question I think will be, is this enough of a compromise to convince the public, the public opinion that it's okay, and I think the debate is still out on that.

SIMON: Help us understand some of the political considerations here, because the Chirac government is not popular and they have to worry about elections. I daresay the students are not popular with a lot of French people at the same time. They considered them over-privileged.

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, some of the, when they blocking roads and everything yesterday, you heard some of the motorists get out and one woman screamed on the news, What is it that you want? You don't want this, you don't want that, what do you want? So something are getting fed up. But I would have to say mostly people are supporting the students. They think that it's just the beginning of the end of a lot of the social protections, the French social model that everyone cherishes here. It's true, Chirac is in a very sensitive position. He has a 20 percent approval rating. This is the lowest of any French president ever. He had to come in there and with his speech he had to save his prime minister, he couldn't back down to the street, yet he had to show that he heard the protestors' message, so he gave this sort of solution which gives everyone something. The problem is, people are saying it came too late. The sides are entrenched now and it just, it came too late. And a lot of people, they're sick of hearing Chirac's doubletalk, as they say it, and they say he didn't give anybody anything. He just pandered to everyone.

SIMON: Student and labor leaders are planning a day of strikes for next Tuesday. Do you get the sense that the protests are beginning to fade or just beginning to build?

BEARDSLEY: Today everyone is regrouping and all the opposition leaders are meeting. They have said that they will go ahead with the fifth planned protest and they say they're going to be massive. One of the union leader says we're more determined than ever. We'll have to wait till next week. One thing that people have mentioned that may help calm the situation are the upcoming school vacations, which start about the first week in April. Now we're going to see if the students are going to be willing to come out and spend their time protesting when they could be on vacation.

SIMON: Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thank you very much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you.

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