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NewsletterMay 2006


Here is one tradition in France that does not involve food: collecting Muguets (Lily of the Valley) on May 1st. I’ve known about this tradition for years but two years ago was the first time I collected Muguets in the wild. Muguets are small plants that give off a very pleasant smell. The tradition is: you go out and gather the Muguets and then put them in a vase to make your home smell nice.

See photos of our 2004 Muguets hunt.

Back to Normal

France seems to have returned to normal. As I write this, the CPE (contrat première embauche or first job contact in English) is dead and there are only a few university sit-ins taking place. At the moment there isn’t any law planned to create more ‘flexibility’ in the French workforce, as the CPE promised to do. There is a popular proposal to ban smoking in public places. But the government is allowing time for public discussion and reaction. One of the reasons for the CPE backlash was the government’s insistence on pushing through the CPE as fast as possible with little dialogue.

The CPE was in response to rioting that took place in France late last year, when mostly poor, minority and disenfranchised youth fought nightly battles with police The idea behind the CPE was to give employers more flexibly in the hiring process, encouraging hiring of unemployed youth. At the moment France, I believe, is one of the few countries in the world where a long term work contact has no end. The contact is terminated at the employee’s discretion, providing the employee does not commit a grave wrong, i.e. stealing. The CDI (contrat à durée indéterminée), is a permanent contract. Note: There is also a CDD (Contrat à Durée Déterminée) a fix term contract along with a few other temporary contacts. I’ve worked under such contracts; the contracts provide little stability for the employee. The CDI makes it very difficult for an employer to layoff employees during an economic down turn. Some feel France’s rigid work code makes job growth impossible.

The CPE goal was to reduce unemployment among those 25 and under with little or limited work experience. France’s 20% to 25% youth unemployment rate is one of the highest in Europe. Greater flexibility could encourage employers to take a risk and hire younger workers. But it also could erode the CDI and the right workers in France now have. Under the CPE such new hires could be fired without reason during the first two years or employment.

The big question: what can France do to solve its chromic unemployment rate, approximately 10% for the last 20 years? Some view the latest the anti-CPE demonstrations along with rejecting the European Constitutional Treaty as typically French: always saying no, unwilling to change and denying global market place realities. After all the anti-CPE movement was about keeping the status quo, i.e. the CDI. Whether this is true is debatable but something certainly must be done about France’s 10% unemployment rate. I believe there is some truth to the French wanting to keep things the way they are and to an extent living in the past. Once upon a time employment was much easier to find as were CDI’s. That world is gone. The youth of France know this. They are deeply distressed about their future employment opportunities: mostly CDD’s and temporary work, with no foreseeable employment stability. The youth of France don’t see why they must give up a right that every other generation for the last 50 years has enjoyed - CDI’s.

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