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French Youth Labor Talks to Continue Friday


French officials are due to meet with union and student leaders Friday for more talks on the country's controversial youth jobs law that has sparked weeks of massive nationwide protests.

The talks are in a stalemate, with labor and student leaders demanding the new law be repealed, and the government insisting it is necessary to lower France's high youth unemployment rate.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Thursday he is willing to consider all proposals to end the impasse, but he stopped short of saying the law will be repealed.

Student leaders Thursday set a deadline of April 17 for the government to cancel the law, which makes it easy for employers to fire young workers within the first two years on the job.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin drafted the legislation in the wake of last year's nationwide youth unrest fueled by anger over a lack of jobs for young people, and other social issues.

Government officials say the law is intended as an incentive for employers to hire more young workers and reduce the country's high youth unemployment rate. Opponents argue it will deprive young people of job security.

The law allows companies to hire young workers for a two-year probationary period and fire anyone under the age of 26 any time during that period without explanation.

President Jacques Chirac signed the bill but says it will not take effect until two changes are made. He wants the probationary period cut to one year. He also wants employers to be required to tell young employees the reason for their dismissal.

French workers enjoy some of the best job security in Europe, with a 35 hour work week, five weeks vacation a year, and labor-friendly laws that make it difficult to fire even incompetent employees.

But France also has one of Europe's highest rates of unemployment at about 10 percent, and 22 percent for workers under the age of 25.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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