Government responds to action by unemployed groups

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Following the recent demonstrations by unemployed groups, the French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, announced in February 1998 the main measures that the Government will be implementing to assist those most affected by unemployment.

December 1997 and January 1998 saw widespread protests in France by groups representing unemployed people (FR9801189F). In a statement made on 26 February 1998, the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, set out his Government's main measures aimed at helping those suffering most as a result of unemployment. Mr Jospin indicated that he wanted to:

  • index link the social security benefits providing a minimum income to the cost of living. Some of these eight minimum benefits have fallen behind the cost of living. From 1 January 1999, they will be index linked to prices;
  • raise the value of the "specific solidarity benefit" (allocation specifique de solidarité, ASS) - paid to unemployed people without entitlement to unemployment benefit - to make up the 8% loss in purchasing power since 1988. This increase is effective immediately and will be backdated to 1 January 1998;
  • channel efforts towards long-term unemployed people. Unemployed people over 55 years old, who have paid social security contributions for 40 years and currently receive ASS or the RMI (which guarantees a minimum income) will have their benefit increased by FRF 1,750 per month until they reach retirement age;
  • strengthen the aid aimed at getting people back to work. Mr Jospin wants to "move from financial aid to social integration through work". To facilitate their return to work, those in receipt of the minimum benefits will be able to keep their benefit-derived income, in decreasing instalments, for a year after finding a job, within the limits of the SMIC national minimum wage; and
  • pass an anti-exclusion law. A bill will be presented to the cabinet on 25 March, containing specific measures to help young people with no resources. The Prime Minister does not want to extend the RMI's coverage to include young people, but instead establish measures which reintegrate the individual into the workforce and provide assistance to ease this change.

The Government measures have not satisfied the various unemployed associations - Act on Unemployment! (Agir contre le chômage!, AC!), the Association for Job Creation and Solidarity (Association pour l'Emploi et la Solidarité, APEIS), the National Movement of the Unemployed and Workers in Insecure Employment (Mouvement national des chômeurs et précaires, MNPC) and the CGT (Confédération générale du travail) unemployed committees - which had particularly emphasised raising the minimum benefits by FRF 1,500 a month and the creation of an RMI for the under-25s. These organisations called for a demonstration on 7 March 1998.

Trade unions feel that a step in the right direction has been made, but nonetheless regret some of the gaps in the Government's plans. Marc Blondel, the CGT-FO (Confédération générale du travail - Force Ouvrière) general secretary, expressed the wish that consideration of the issue should continue "in order to clarify everything relating to unemployment insurance and the state's role" in benefits granted to unemployed people. While considering that the increase in the minimum benefits could have been higher, the CFDT (Confédération française démocratique du travail) has asked the CNPF (Conseil national du patronat français) employers' organisation "to discuss the way in which companies could participate in making job offers that would reintegrate those excluded from the workforce".

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