'We're not disposable', France's youths asking for steady jobs

When student demonstrators in France wore trash bags to protests, their message was: "We're not disposable." Officially, they are angry about a new government job plan that makes it easier for employers to hire and fire them. But that was just the tipping point.

The unemployment rate for France's young people is more than 20 percent, or twice the national average. Many overqualified college graduates string together odd jobs, meaning they don't dare move out of their parents' homes or start families. Without a steady job, it's extremely hard to rent an apartment in France or even to open a bank account.

Job competition from emerging markets , the government's key argument for the new law, is far from most students' minds. Their leaders say French workers cannot accept longer hours and lower pay on par with Asian economies that are often touted as the models of the future.

"What the student demonstrations are saying is that the young refuse to live in the world as it is," Bruno Julliard, the head of France's main student association, UNEF, reports AP.

According to Reuters, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Tuesday there could be flexibility over a key element of a controversial youth job law by cutting the length of a trial period from 2 years.

"Social partners have the complete freedom to reduce this (trial) period in those sectors where it would be most relevant," he said in the text of a speech to deputies of his ruling UMP party.

Under the law employers can fire people under 26 at any time during a two-year trial period without giving a reason but hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest, saying the law would increase job insecurity.

President Jacques Chirac repeated calls Monday for dialogue between the government and opponents of the law, which he said could be "improved." Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin met with business leaders, unemployed youths and students in an effort to find a way out of the impasse that threatens his political career.

"He is ready to go further than this," a spokesman for Villepin said Monday, hinting there was room for negotiation. "If there are proposals from the unions, he is ready to study them," informs International Herald Tribune.

O.Ch.