President Jacques Chirac said Friday that he would press ahead with a contentious labor law that would make it easier to fire young workers but offered some concessions in the hope of calming furious protests and strikes.
In one of the most highly anticipated televised addresses of his 11-year presidency, Chirac said he would reduce a trial period during which employees could be summarily dismissed from two years to one, and would require employers to offer reasons.
In preserving the principle that workers under 26 would initially face a lack of job security under the new contract, Chirac sided with his prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, who has argued that the added flexibility will encourage businesses to hire, helping to reduce France's chronic youth unemployment rates.
The new type of job contract, Chirac said, "can be an effective tool for employment."
Chirac's concessions appeared to anger, not appease, opponents of the contract who had demanded that it be scrapped, not simply modified.
"We don't want to negotiate ... we don't want it at all," said Bruno Julliard, head of the largest students' union, on TF1 television. "The president had the chance to give a clear answer, which he didn't do."
The head of the Workers Force union, Jean-Claude Mailly, said strikes already planned for next Tuesday should go ahead.
A modified law "is not what was asked for," he said.
Before Chirac's speech, hundreds of students converged peacefully on the Place de la Bastille in Paris to demand that he not enact the law.
The French leader, however, said youth unemployment is a problem that cannot be ignored and he reiterated his conservative government's determination to make labor laws more flexible to free up enterprises.
"The time has come to move forward," said Chirac. "We must work together to end this shocking situation whereby companies, out of fear of excessive inflexibilities, prefer to refuse an order or to move overseas rather than hire, even when so many people are trapped in unemployment," reports AP.
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