Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Stop the CPE

Sunday, on the evening news, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin gave one more demonstration of the autism characteristic of Jacques Chirac's monarchy (theoretically he is president, not king, but once elected the president of France is quite insulated from democratic pressures). The basic principal is that democracy in France is confined to elections, then the Republic takes over: once elected, the government does what it wants. (Hence strikes: in transactional analysis terms, the government refuses adult-adult discourse, so the people behaves like a brat).
New agenda? Reduce unemployment until after the next presidential election, in May 2007. How? By making it easier to fire anybody hired from now on any time in the following two years! Too radical? Sure, we'll limit it to small businesses (fewer than twenty employees), and call it the CNE.

That was a great idea, wasn't it? And since we have high unemployment among the young, we'll do the same for anybody who hires someone who is under 26 and has never held a permanent position. That will be the CPE.

Finally, to reduce the number of unemployable young, we'll take them out of school and make them apprentices at age fourteen (instead of the current sixteen). Less schooling and earlier specialisation is bound to make them more professionally mobile, and help prevent "obsolescence" at age fifty.

I read this morning that the minister of higher education, François Goulard, said he understands the reactions of rejection on the part of the students "because they have a poor understanding of the working world and can misunderstand the proposed measures" («car ils connaissent mal le monde du travail et peuvent mal interpréter les mesures proposées »).

Now, students in 49 universities, technical and professional schools are on strike. The picture, from stopcpe.net looks like this:

François-Xavier Cuche, president of the 'university Strasbourg II, says the resumption of a dialog is not possible as long as the CPE is maintained. Rémy Pech, the president of Toulouse II, points out that the suspension of the CPE would be a means to unblock the functioning of the university. Two deans, (présidents d'UFR) of Paris VII (Jussieu) have also asked the Prime minister for "the suspension of the CPE and the immediate openning of negotiations."

Dominique de Villepin clearly doesn't know much more about the real world of work than the students do, and probably less. Nicolas Sarkozy could have given him some clues (his brother, whose business recently went bankrupt, was head of the Medef, the syndicate of company heads), but "give a man enough rope and he'll hang himself": he let DDV charge ahead!

The CPE might have one positive effect: on a statistic. Someone entering the job market in France nowadays will, on average, hold temporary or short-term jobs for eight years or more before obtaining their first permanent job, whereas this initiation period only lasts three to five years in other countries. And yes, this is the lot of many highly educated workers, too. Over a thousand heads of research labs resigned last year, to protest lack of funding to give researchers permanent jobs.

Now, with the CPE, employers can hire for "permanent" jobs with less risk and fewer constraints than for short-term contracts! So lots of new hires could get first permanent jobs earlier. But chances are, they would have gotten the job anyway, and with a more honest contract. And this extension of the evaluation period from three months (renewable once, for a total of six months) to two years before a hire is confirmed will not favor geographic mobility: landlords won't readily rent to people without permanent jobs, and are likely to ask for a "risk premium."

Vediorbis provides some information de Villepin could have used.

France is the second-ranked European market for temporary staffing, the third in the world after the U.S.A. with turnover of 17,8 billion euros in 2002. In France, 1000 temporary staffing businesses operate a network of over 5800 agencies employing over 20000 permanent staff.

In 2002, the temporary staffing profession put the equivalent of 570067 full time equivalent salaried employees to work, 2,1% of the French workforce. The typical temp is a male (69%), 29 years old (60% under 30 years), qualified (57%), working 6 months/year (31%, over 10 months).

Manpower : 1130 agencies in France. Recruits, evaluates and places 130 000 temporary staff daily. 3,2 millions missions contracted in 2005: 230 millions hours worked. 4,5 milliards d'euros.
Adecco: not so open about the size of their operations in France.
Vediorbis: 700 agencies in France. 350 000 temporary workers placed each year.
And lest we forget, about a million students are employed as "interns". They receive a bonus, not a salary; they cost less than a minimum wage.


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