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French PM offers labor compromise

From CNN Correspondent Chris Burns

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Paris (France)
Dominique de Villepin
Jacques Chirac
Labor Legislation

PARIS, France (CNN) -- French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, under fire from students and workers over a controversial new labor law, has offered a new proposal to appease his opponents.

De Villepin on Saturday suggested a plan to pay three months of salary to laid-off workers who participate in a three-month job training program.

He also reiterated a proposal to review the measure six months after it goes into effect.

De Villepin passed along the proposals during a meeting at his office with representatives from two student unions.

The measure is expected to take effect in April. However, its implementation may be delayed because it is being challenged in court.

Earlier, the leaders of four other high school and university student unions refused an invitation from de Villepin for a meeting over the controversial new law. Those four entities are larger than the two groups he met with on Saturday.

One two smaller unions is for the law and the other is against it.

In a letter to the prime minister, those four larger student unions said they would only be interested in discussing the withdrawal of the law, not its implementation.

The student letter warned that the crisis "plunges our country into a situation of extreme gravity, fertile ground for unrest that we all deplore."

The four biggest unions are unlikely to accept the pay proposal, and the idea has to go through the legislative process to be incorporated into the law.

On Friday, five labor unions met with de Villepin but left telling reporters they had failed to get him to withdraw the law.

The union leaders called for a strong turnout Tuesday for a planned "day of action," including strikes and demonstrations against the new law.

De Villepin told French radio: "Together we must successfully find an answer to the fears of youth."

He would not go further except to say that he was looking forward to meeting with student leaders on Saturday.

The law was proposed by de Villepin in an attempt to stimulate hiring, especially among young workers.

The law, the "first job contract" or CPE in French, would give employers the right to fire workers for any reason during the first two years of employment.

The unions oppose the new law and French students have staged massive demonstrations across the country to denounce it.

Under current French law, once hired, workers have strong protections that make it difficult and expensive to fire them.

In response, employers have held off hiring new workers. As a result, unemployment in France has hovered around 10 percent with unemployment levels over 50 percent among some groups of young workers.

The government proposed the CPE law after riots in the suburbs of Paris and other cities last fall among young people who complained they had no opportunities for work.

But the plan has drawn a strong response from French students who feel the law will create a class of workers who will face being fired every two years.

On Thursday, according to police, around 200,000 students demonstrated in Rennes, Grenoble, Marseille and Paris against the law.

Cars were burned and demonstrators clashed with police in central Paris in front of the Invalides, the building housing the tomb of the emperor Napoleon.

Demonstrators also battled with police in Rennes, west of Paris. All totaled, French authorities said, 420 people were arrested.

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