Not for the first time in its millennia-long history, there has been social disorder and civil unrest in France.For weeks now, French youth – along with many other people in the country’s population – have been protesting a labor law that would have taken away some of the nation’s job security.
The CliffsNotes version: France, like much of Europe, has had an economy that offers, by American standards, exceptional job security at the cost of businesses’ ability to hire and fire freely. A law that French President Jacques Chirac signed into effect on April 2 – a law that had been talked about for some time – made it easier to hire and fire any potential workers under the age of 26. The law allowed businesses to sign anyone in that age range on for a two-year trial period of contract labor, during which companies could break the contract off for any reason and without due explanation.
While this may sound unfair to young workers, consider that previous French business practices made it a lot tougher for youths to even get jobs because companies had to follow more rigid hiring procedures. More importantly, it was harder for companies to get rid of workers, meaning the job market was less open – bad for those seeking jobs – and that those companies, in many cases, had to continue allowing less-competent employees to work less efficiently than might newer workers.
Bottom line: France, and many other Western European countries, is in need of some sort of economic reform to give companies more flexibility. As it stands, when employees are hired they often stay until they retire in their 50s or 60s with significant pension packages. And while productivity per hour worked in France is up compared with the United States, GDP per capita is significantly lower, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This difference in GDP is most likely a result of the lower number of hours worked – the typical French work week is 35 hours – and the high percentage of the population that is not in the workforce, particularly those under 25 and those over 50.
Clearly, if France is to keep up with many of its peers in the global economy, it needs to reform its own economy somehow. This law, which Chirac announced Monday that he would rescind in light of the protests, was an important step in that direction. A new, weaker law has been proposed for the country’s economy, and includes only one-year trial periods and eliminates the termination-without-explanation portion of the previous law, according to The New York Times.
As exemplified by these recent protests, the population of France is quite opposed to much economic reform. Perhaps in the future, the French people will come to realize that their nation’s economy is in need of change. Hopefully, this will happen before it gets too much worse.
Jarod Daily is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Keller.