“Social Conference” Tackles Unemployment, Economic Stagnation

President François Hollande will hope the Social Conference proves a launching pad for economic recovery. Photo: flickr.com/jmayrault

President François Hollande will hope the Social Conference proves a launching pad for economic recovery. Photo: flickr.com/jmayrault

President François Hollande launched the second annual “Social Conference” on June 20 at the Palais d’Iéna in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. While last year’s meeting included the initiation of promising plans for “Generation Contracts,” a competitiveness pact, and future job growth, the discussion this year was focused around unemployment and continued economic weakness.

The two-day meeting included cabinet ministers, employers, and trade unions. Pensions, training for the unemployed, and the status of France’s civil service were the three issues to be confronted.

Hollande vowed on day one to fight “doubt, disapproval, and disarray” at home. He indicated that there were “encouraging signs” for the economy, including a rebound of industrial production and the restart of a program of temporary hires, and stated that the budgetary rigor would not be austerity.

Despite Hollande’s positive attitude about the country’s economic situation, the data suggest a more negative outlook. The INSEE, France’s national statistics agency, predicted on Friday that the unemployment rate in France would actually rise from 10.4 to 10.7 percent, and that the economy will stagnate this year despite Hollande’s insistence that the country’s economic situation is improving.

It is not surprising that employment was declared the main issue of the conference. Hollande announced a plan to fill jobs without candidates, which he estimated between 200,000 and 300,000. The plan, which focuses mainly on training and financial incentives, will be underway by the end of the summer, according to Michel Sapin, Minister of Employment.

Union leaders do not seem to be onboard with this proposal. Jean-Claude Mailly, Secretary General of la Force ouvrière (FO), the Workers’ Force, suggested that the approach would not fix the unemployment problem. There are currently over 3.2 million unemployed referred to as “inactive,” in addition to the five million who are registered at the Pôle emploi.

The first day of the conference also served to clarify the government’s intentions regarding retirement. The President refuses to touch the retirement age, currently at 62. However, the number of years that one must contribute to the system is likely to increase, a measure characterized as “the most fair, provided that it is applied to everyone.”

Between now and September, the government will need to reach a consensus on how many years French citizens will need to work to obtain a full pension. Hollande has come under fire from his base constituency for a proposal on the calculation of public-sector pensions, released in a recent government report, which states that they should be calculated in a similar fashion to those of the private sector.

One issue that was not much addressed was the salaries of civil servants, which would be frozen, the Minister for State Reform announced early last week. The last rise in the pay of civil servants, a mere 0.5 percent, occurred three years ago, while the private sector raised salaries 2.5 percent in just the last year. The unions are  displeased with this action, or lack thereof, and six of France’s eight unions are threatening to strike in protest.

Hollande does not plan to adjust the régimes spéciaux, which give preferable treatment to professions with powerful unions, including the railroads, gas, and electricity. He claims that his reason for leaving the system untouched is that it was reformed by President Sarkozy in 2010 and is not a pressing issue today.

Throughout the summer, the Hollande-Ayrault government will continue to discuss their plans for tackling unemployment and the economy. More concrete conclusions and, France will hope, concrete measures are due  in September.

Trackbacks

  1. […] President François Hollande launched the second annual “Social Conference” at the Palais d’Iéna in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. While last year’s meeting included the initiation of promising plans for “Generation Contracts,” a competitiveness pact, and future job growth, the discussion this year was focused around unemployment and continued economic weakness. The two-day meeting included cabinet ministers, employers, and trade unions. Pensions, training for the unemployed, and the status of France’s civil service were the three issues to be confronted. […]

  2. […] the wake of the “Social Conference” that took place in Paris last month, President François Hollande announced new measures on […]

  3. […] the wake of the “Social Conference” that took place in Paris last month, President François Hollande announced new measures on […]

  4. […] the wake of the “Social Conference” that took place in Paris last month, President François Hollande announced new measures to […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: