Jospin Government launches job creation programme for young people

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In September 1997, the French Government presented a bill establishing a new scheme to create 350,000 jobs in the public and non-profit sectors for young people. We review the contents of the plan and the reactions of the social partners.

During the last parliamentary election campaign, the Socialist Party committed itself to creating 700,000 jobs for young people, half of them in the non-commercial sector and half in the private sector. A new bill drawn up by the Minister of Employment and Solidarity, Martine Aubry, supported by a team of 10 "experts", deals with the creation of 350,000 jobs for young people over the next five years in the public sector or in associations. It was published in September 1997. The section pertaining to the private sector is to be dealt with at the national conference on employment, salaries and working time on 10 October, in which the Government, unions and heads of industry will take part.

The employers covered by the proposed new employment scheme for young people are public sector institutions, local authorities and associations. In order to qualify for employment under the plan, young people - whatever their level of qualification - must be under 26, or under 30 if they have never been employed for four consecutive months and thus have never been eligible for unemployment benefit. The state will guarantee 80% of the statutory minimum wage (salaire minimum interprofessionnel de croissance, SMIC), and of the related social security contributions. The SMIC is currently worth FRF 5,240 net per month. This subsidy does not mean that all jobs will be paid at the rate of the SMIC, as the employer will be free to set a higher salary. The employer will also be able to decide between two types of private-law employment contracts - an open-ended contract or a five-year fixed-term contract - which represents a significant change in labour law. In view of the fact that the fixed-term contract is renewable annually any termination will be by the employee, or by the employer if "serious circumstances" exist, in which case the young person will potentially be entitled to have recourse to an industrial tribunal.

In this year's budget, FRF 2 billion has been allocated for the scheme, permitting the creation of 50,000 jobs, and a further FRF 10 billion is earmarked next year for a second wave of 150,000 jobs. The programme will cost a total of FRF 32.5 billion between now and 2001.

Break with previous policy

The programme aims to respond to "real" needs not covered by the commercial or administrative sectors, through the creation of new socially-orientated jobs. The team of experts have come up with proposals to that effect: social "mediation" in housing estates and in public transport; crime prevention; social worker assistants; tutors in the education sector; or jobs linked to heritage protection or upkeep and to tourism and sport. The Minister has made it clear that he wishes to break with "stop-gap" jobs such as have been created and funded under previous employment policy, since these jobs are of limited value in terms of social function and of the possibilities they offer for the permanent placement of young people. The idea now, is to start by analysing social needs in order to create new jobs with precise functions and requiring various levels of qualification, instead of prioritising the mere reduction of unemployment figures with the sole advantage of targeting a particularly vulnerable social group.

The aim is that at the end of the five-year period these new personal-service jobs will have become self-financing permanent activities so as to guarantee the recruitment of young people in normal conditions. Moreover, the programme will not come into conflict with the various schemes already in place for the most vulnerable unemployed people, since subsidies for the creation of this new type of employment cannot be combined with other assistance given by the state. In order to ensure quality, there will be monitoring of proposals put forward by the employers involved, whose applications will be submitted to the approval of the Préfet(local government representative) in each département.

Reaction by unions and employers

While the majority of them support the wish on the part of the Government to combat youth unemployment, trade unions have indicated apprehension in varying degrees and on different topics:

  • The first anxiety deals with the status of the jobs created for young people. Is five years really a sufficient time-frame in which to ensure stability of employment? How are the dangers of contract termination during this period to be assessed? What guarantee can be given to young people that their pay will not systematically be the SMIC, irrespective of qualifications?
  • A second worry, linked with the first, is the quality of jobs created and the chances of them becoming permanent at the end of the five-year subsidy period. There is also the matter of the recognition of the professional nature of these jobs and of the related qualifications, in an area not administered by the civil service or traditionally covered by collective agreements.
  • A third concern is the possible threat that this third sector may pose to the civil service through the replacement of permanent jobs and the introduction of private-law contracts. The risk to job security in the civil service, particularly for local authority employees, is pointed out, at a time when efforts have been made in recent years to bring jobs such as community or nursery worker, which are part and parcel of the new programme, under the umbrella of public employment. These areas are central to the ministerial plan. There is also a problem of possible competition with the commercial sector and of destruction of unsubsidised or less subsidised jobs in this sector.

The most favourable reaction has come from the CFTC (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens), which has welcomed the Government's decision to break with the fixation on employment figures which has for so long been the driving force behind this type of initiative. However, it points out that care must be taken to create permanent jobs. The CFDT (Confédération française démocratique du travail) considers that "the plan with its emphasis on new types of jobs based on an evaluation of needs" is a move in the right direction. Nevertheless, the union underlines two problems: the risk of replacing permanent civil service posts with this type of job; and the notion of quality being subordinate to quantity. The CFE-CGC (Confédération française de l'encadrement - Confédération générale des cadres) also views the project in a positive light, but argues that it is necessary to set up mechanisms so that the financial burden of these jobs is borne, at least partially, by the service user so as to avoid long-term strain on public finances.

The FEN (Fédération de l''Education Nationale) education union is prepared to cooperate in the recruitment of tutors in schools but points out the obvious breach of the Labour Code and is fearful of a reduction in permanent jobs. The latter problem is made worse by the fact that the most eager employers are especially those government departments which are attempting to "get the lion's share". Some 40,000 jobs have been offered by the Ministry of Education, in addition to 8,250 by the Ministry of the Interior and a further 8,000 by the Ministry of Sport and Youth, without even mentioning those to be created by local authorities. The budget cannot be stretched this far. Besides, it would be difficult not to compare these figures with the thousands of jobs axed in these respective areas over past years. The FSU (Fédération Syndicale Unitaire) points out the contradiction in the case of national education. For its part, it stresses the risk of creating a two-tier system for employees of the same public service, and of reducing the opportunities for young people to become civil servants, which is a major area of employment.

The CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail) and FO (Force Ouvrière) have expressed the most guarded judgments and share the three main worries listed above, stressing the risk facing the status of civil servants at at a time when employers are fighting for more deregulation.

The CNPF (Conseil national du patronat français) employers' confederation notes that in fact the new contract is in some ways more flexible than the "standard" fixed-term contract which currently has a maximum total lifespan of 24 months. They suggest the setting up of a new employment contract (Contrat d'activite, CDA) with provision for severance during the initial two years (with notice and compensation), with an obligation for the employer to reinstate the employee in case of economic upturn. Following this two-year period, there would be the possibility of an upgrading of the contract to permanent status.

Commentary

The concerns raised by the trade unions are well-founded. What they express above all is the idea that the solutions to youth unemployment can never be reduced to new legal norms or technical mechanisms thought up and implemented by the public authorities: they require above all the engagement of all the social actors (Florence Lefresne, IRES)

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