French jobless back 35-hour week

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The Independent Online
Demonstrators against unemployment took to the streets all over France again yesterday, this time with government approval.

The marches were principally intended to support the Jospin government's proposal to create new jobs by reducing the basic working week to 35 hours. But they were joined by pressure groups for the long-term unemployed which have shaken the Socialist-led coalition in recent weeks by demanding steep improvements in social benefits.

The government was relieved to see the jobless protesters swinging behind its own job creation plan, which was formally presented to the National Assembly yesterday. Part of the Jospin administration's strategy has been to divert the anger and activism of the unemployment protests away from itself and towards the French employers' federation, which fiercely opposes a cut in working hours.

Far-left groups, who have been energetically involved in the jobless movement in recent weeks, angrily objected to the "confusion" between the two sets of demands.

Under the draft law presented yesterday, the basic working week would be reduced from 39 hours to 35 hours, without loss of pay, from 2000. Businesses employing 20 people or less would be exempted until 2002.

The Jospin government claims that this will create new jobs: the employers' federation says it would increase their costs by 11 per cent, reduce French competitiveness and destroy jobs. Two independent studies published last week, one by the Banque de France, the other by the respected economic think-tank, the OFCE, supported the government line. They said the plan would create between 710,000 and 450,000 jobs over three years.

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