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Middle-aged French job seeker confronts Hollande


Text by Mehdi CHEBIL

Latest update : 2013-08-12

French President François Hollande’s pledge of a turnaround in French unemployment by the end of this year has failed to convince older job seekers, resulting in one confronting the president during his PR tour of the country.

French President François Hollande’s efforts to drum up support for his economic policies and lift the morale of the notoriously gloomy French public were challenged last week by a sceptical older job seeker complaining that the government was doing nothing "concrete" to tackle unemployment.

Hollande’s ‘generation contracts’

The cornerstone of Hollande’s employment policy is a ‘generation contract’ that reduces social charges for companies that hire young people on open-ended long-term contracts while keeping a senior workers in active employment until retirement.

French Trade Unions have welcomed this scheme because it focuses on the transfer of skills between generations, promoting youth employment while trying to prevent the withdrawal of older workers from the job market.

The verbal confrontation between Nathalie Michaud (pictured, above) – who unintentionally appeared as a representative for France’s 3,538,500 job seekers – and the Socialist president was captured by TV cameras on August 7 in front of the employment centre of La Roche-sur-Yon in Western France.

"I’ve been looking for a job for a year and a half; I have to go back to my parent’s home because I can’t find work… What are you going to do for people like me?" asked the 50-year-old woman.

"That’s why we’re here, to find solutions", replied Hollande, who was clearly surprised by the woman’s angry tone.

"No, but what are we going to do? Right now there is nothing concrete," demanded Michaud to an uncomfortable Hollande, who quickly escaped Michaud – and the jostling media – by darting into the employment centre.

In France, job seekers over 50 account for 30 percent of the long-term unemployed (those out of work for more than one year). Since the 2008 financial crisis, the unemployment rate of people aged 50 and over has almost doubled from 4.7 percent to 7.1 percent.

"Growth between -0.1% and 0.1%"

France’s Le Monde newspaper labelled the confrontation an embarrassment. The respected newspaper pointed out that Hollande’s attempt at an upbeat PR tour around the country had failed and that the French president appeared "shaken" and "eager to escape". Despite the government’s mantra that slashing unemployment is its "top priority", a whopping 84% of the French public believe that Hollande will fail to bring down the unemployment rate by the end of 2013.

That scepticism was compounded by France’s Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici’s Saturday announcement that GDP expectations for 2013 GDP were "somewhere between -0.1 percent and 0.1 percent". The economy’s recovery was breathlessly anticipated by the French government who want to see a boost in private sectors jobs, and desperately need some good news.

This bleak economic outlook puts more pressure on the government to deliver what it calls “jobs of the future” – subsidised contracts for employers who hire unqualified youths aged between 16 and 25 in the health, charitable, and other non-commercial sectors. After a slow start, the government said it expected to see almost 100,000 subsidised contracts by the end of the year.

Older citizens hunting for jobs

As for Michaud who challenged Hollande in La Roche-sur-Yon, she is set to join an army of 30,000 new classroom aides and playground assistants hired to welcome French children back to school after the summer holidays.

Michaud told the AFP news agency that she was already in touch with her future employer – a high school – before her televised altercation with the French president made her famous. “I’m actually going back to what I was doing when I was just a student”, said the divorced mother of one sadly, referring to her 500 euro-a-month part-time subsidised contract.

Her plight illustrates a worrying long-term trend for older workers. A 51 year-old commercial worker laid off in April 2012 told FRANCE 24 that he was putting his faith in a subsidised training scheme to start a new career in logistics.

"Who is going to trust me now that I’m over 50-year-old, employers are looking for young people with experience, qualifications, and flexibility", said Dominique R., who lives in the Paris suburbs. “The older you get, the harder it is to find a new job,” he added.

Date created : 2013-08-11


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