[JURIST] French demonstrators staged a fifth day of protests Tuesday against the First Employment Contract (contrat premiere embauche, CPE) [JURIST news archive], a labor law [text, in French] that would create an age-based exception to traditional French labor regulations by allowing workers who were under 26 years of age at the time of hiring to be fired without cause at any time during the first two years of employment. Nationwide, official reports counted one million protesters in Paris and other cities while organizers claimed three million. Teachers and rail workers held one-day sympathy strikes. AP has more, and Le Monde has local coverage [in French]. Recent polls indicate contradictory tendencies: 45% of French people think Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin [official profile], closely identified with the CPE law, should resign but 49% think he should stay, and 59% state that the controversy will not affect their votes in next year's elections.
The law enshrining the CPE was signed into law Sunday by French President Jacques Chirac [official biography], who has proposed immediately reducing the law's reach to one year of employment and requiring a reason for any dismissal. Student and union leaders have already balked at that compromise. While government conservatives did not agree to abolish the law Tuesday in the face of the latest mass protests, they did indicate they may be willing to negotiate with trade unions over the measure. Unions had said that they will not sit down for discussions, however, unless lawmakers agree to scrap the CPE and begin fresh talks on ways to tackle the 22% youth unemployment rate. Reuters has more.