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 10/18/2006 Royal criticizes France's 35-Hour Week

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MessageSujet: 10/18/2006 Royal criticizes France's 35-Hour Week   Mer 18 Oct - 23:35

Royal, in Socialist Debate, Criticizes France's 35-Hour Week

By Emma Vandore

Segolene Royal, the leading Socialist presidential candidate, said the 35-hour work week needs fixing, seeking to distinguish herself from her two rivals for the opposition party's nomination in their first debate.

``The `35 hours' was a wonderful success for the majority of workers, but for a minority'' it led to a ``social regression,'' she said in the two-hour televised debate late yesterday in Paris. ``We have to repair this.''

Royal, 53, is headed toward victory in the first round of party voting next month, surveys suggest. The lawmaker leads former Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn and ex-Prime Minister Laurent Fabius by more than two-to-one. An Ifop poll published yesterday showed her trailing the governing party's likely candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, by 53 percent to 47 percent.

The discussion over the length of the working week was one of the few points of contention among the Socialist candidates, who all said they endorsed the party platform that calls for Electricite de France SA to be renationalized and the minimum wage to be increased. Each said they'd ``enrich'' the Socialist project with their own proposals.

``My hope is to represent a desire for the future,'' Royal said. ``I'm a candidate to make the left win.''

`Something New'

Royal is ``popular because she speaks in a simple language,'' said Stephane Baumont, a professor at Toulouse University of Social Sciences. ``She showed she isn't afraid of debates. She's pragmatic, she's something new, and that's what French people want. The other two represent the past.''

Royal was asked at least three times by the moderators to address the 35-hour week before giving her response. Royal first challenged party orthodoxy by questioning the 35-hour week June 5. She said the law may have curbed wage growth and deterred hiring in low skill jobs, an argument she defended last night.

In a bid to boost employment, the previous Socialist government of Lionel Jospin introduced a 35-working week in 1998. Strauss-Kahn said debate has moved on from the 35-hour law, urging additional methods to boost growth. Fabius said the law can't be considered a ``failure,'' saying 85 percent of French people are pleased to work less.

``If I am elected president of the Republic, the `35 hours' will be generalized,'' he said in last night's debate.

Declining Joblessness

The Union for a Popular Majority-controlled parliament effectively rescinded the 35-hour week in a March 2005 vote, raising overtime limits and letting private-sector employees swap time off in a bid to boost employment. A parliament report in 2004 said the legislation had helped create 350,000 jobs at a cost of 4.5 billion euros ($5.8 billion).

The jobless rate has fallen to 9 percent from 10.1 percent in May 2005, helped by accelerating economic growth, government subsidies and measures making it easier to hire and fire. President Jacques Chirac is aiming for a rate of less than 8 percent next year.

Fabius, 60, who opposed the Socialists' official line last year to campaign against the European Union constitution, has positioned himself to the ``left'' of the party, calling for an immediate increase in the minimum wage of 100 euros, and the abolition of stock-option programs in large companies.

Strauss-Kahn stressed his achievements as finance minister from 1997-99, when he claims to have reduced the debt burden for the first time since the 1980s. He called for more training to help people back into work and measures to support purchasing power. He said the minimum wage should be raised gradually.

`Full Employment'

``My objective is full employment in less than 10 years,'' he said. He urged Socialists to vote for him ``so finally in our country we put in place a modern social democracy.''

Royal also called for giving local authorities more say in channeling state aid to boost more efficiency. Companies that shift production abroad to cut costs should be penalized, she said. She called for inspiration from Nordic employment rules where union participation is higher.

She said she wanted to put an end to ``financial anarchy.''

``On some subjects, the minimum wage, the 35-hours, my colleagues were perhaps more vague than I was,'' said Fabius.

Royal, who would be France's first woman president, has 63 percent support among Socialist ``backers,'' compared with 24 percent for Strauss-Kahn, 57, and 13 percent for Fabius, according to an Ipsos SA survey. The poll questioned 1,878 Socialist sympathizers Oct. 6-14 and gave no margin of error.

Socialist party members will vote Nov. 16 and in a second round on Nov. 23 if needed. Royal's support slipped from 66 percent in an Ipsos poll Sept. 29-Oct. 7.

On economic and social questions, a separate poll of 960 people of voting age showed Royal garners the most confidence with 37 percent of the vote, compared with Strauss-Kahn's 31 percent and Fabius' 16 percent. CSA conducted the survey Oct. 4 and gave no margin of error.

Last night's two-hour debate was the first in a series of six. Three will be televised, and three hosted around France beginning Oct. 19 in Clermont-Ferrand. In last night's debate, candidates answered questions supplied in advance by party activists to which they took turns to respond.




Source : http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601085&sid=aQKYOr6JAH7M&refer=europe

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