[JURIST] The French government again defended its recently passed First Employment Contract (CPE) [FAQ, in French] labor law Sunday, a day after mass protests against the legislation were held in Paris and other major French cities. The law allows French employers to hire workers under the age of 26 for a conditional two-year period during which they can be fired without cause. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin [official website] proposed the controversial CPE in an effort to provide jobs for young workers who suffer from staggering unemployment rates, as much as 20% for young people compared to 9.6% nationwide. Students, union members and left-wing politicians nonetheless contend that the law erodes job stability and threatens France's traditionally strong workers' rights. Responding to a threat of a possible general strike on Monday, a French government spokesman said the government was open to dialogue and the possibility of improving the law, but did not say that the law would be withdrawn or suspended.
Some 500,000 protesters gathered Saturday [JURIST report] in more than 150 demonstrations across the country to denounce the labor law and while protests were mostly peaceful, at least 167 people were arrested in Paris after protests there turned violent. Demonstrations earlier in the week [JURIST report] also ended in street fights and clouds of tear gas in Paris. Strikes against the law over the last two weeks have grown larger and larger, and have impacted 60 of France's 84 universities [JURIST report]. Many believe that increasing voter disapproval of the CPE and Villepin's firm stance [JURIST report] will create political problems for his anticipated candidacy to replace President Jacques Chirac. Reuters has more.