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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

French Jobless Back New Work Law

PARIS -- Karim Ali, an unemployed 20-year-old living outside Paris, says a new labor contract that sparked student protests across France may get him a job.

Ali, who's been looking for work for eight months, says Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin may be right that the new contract, called CPE, would encourage employers to take on workers under 26 because they could fire them faster if necessary.

"Students don't know the job market," said Ali, as he walked out of a job counseling center in the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers, which has a large population of immigrant origin. "I prefer to be hired on a CPE than to be unemployed."

Hundreds of thousands of students and labor unionists have been marching in Paris, Marseilles and other cities. Towns like Aubervilliers, where youth unemployment of more than 40 percent fueled riots last year, have been quiet.

The acceptance of the new law by some of the youths in disadvantaged suburbs shows a deepening divide in France, pitting those who urgently need jobs against those fighting to maintain generous labor benefits.

De Villepin met with officials from student groups two days ago and said he would review the most disputed aspects of the new contract, falling short of union demands that he revoke it. A coalition of students and unions is turning up the heat on de Villepin with a strike tomorrow unless he withdraws the contract.

Courses at French universities have been disrupted since campuses in Poitiers and Rennes went on strike in mid-January, when the government approved the law. Students at more than half the country's 84 universities have voted to go on strike, according to the French Ministry of Education.

The student protesters say the new law, which allows companies to fire employees under age 26 within the first two years with little notice or severance, adds uncertainty to their lives. Youths already in the labor market are less picky.

"If they offer it to me, I'll take it," said 24-year-old Rachid Moumni, a high-school dropout who hasn't worked since August. He said he felt discouraged after months of knocking on doors to hand out his resume for jobs ranging from manual labor to industrial painting.

Few youths see the contract as a magic bullet.

"Of course I don't" like the new contract, said Patrick Maengando, a 22-year-old looking for a retail job. "Banks don't lend you money and it's hell to find an apartment when you're on it, because you can be fired overnight," he said. Would he take a job under the contract? "Of course I would," he said.

Of the 1,800 who sought help from Aubervilliers' job counseling center last year, 400 found work, mostly through limited-term contracts. "New contracts will boost employment figures right away,'" said Carine Parville, a trainer at the center.

Most young people from Aubervilliers miss out on the secure, long-term contracts that more than 86 percent of France's 22.2 million workers are on. In the town's counseling center, only 28 percent of new contracts are long-term.

"The French labor market is a two-tiered market with, on the one hand, highly protected jobs and, on the other hand, highly flexible jobs for new entrants, immigrants and more generally unskilled workers," said Eric Chaney, chief European economist at Morgan Stanley.