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Chirac to Sign Youth Jobs Bill, But Will Seek Some Changes

French President Jacques Chirac says a controversial new job law will be softened to give workers greater rights. But from Paris, Lisa Bryant reports for VOA that Mr. Chirac refuses to repeal the legislation, which has sparked massive, nationwide protests.

In an evening address broadcast to the nation Friday, President Chirac proposed two modifications to the new job law, known as the First Employment Contract. He is calling on the government to reduce from two years to one the period in which a first-time employee can be easily fired. Young workers will also have the right to know why they have been fired.

Mr. Chirac said he understands the concerns of young people - and their parents - who have taken to the streets to protest the law in four, major, nationwide demonstrations this month. Students have also blockaded and shuttered schools to protest the legislation, which allows employers to more easily fire first-time workers under the age of 26.

The government argues the law will boost employment by reducing hiring restrictions. But critics argue it simply increases job insecurity. A series of recent polls indicate the majority of French oppose the legislation.

Mr. Chirac says the law will take effect. It was passed by the parliament, he says, and given the green light as well by the Constitutional Council, France's highest judicial authority.

Many have called on the president to intervene to diffuse what is one of the biggest political crises to date facing the center-right government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. But student and labor union leaders - along with leftist politicians - swiftly denounced Mr. Chirac's remarks.

In an interview on France 2 TV, Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande said Chirac and his government failed to end the conflict - or find the right words to bring reconciliation.

Other critics said Mr. Chirac had done nothing to diffuse the crisis in his evening address. Another, national demonstration against the new labor law is scheduled for Tuesday.