Friday, April 29, 2005

France: Screw the old people, gimme my holiday!

France: This is so cold, but to be expected.

Two years ago, the French were horrified when thousands of elderly and infirm people died in a summer heatwave. But give up a bank holiday to make sure it does not happen again? Not likely. An increasingly embarrassed government faces mass revolt, and possible court proceedings, over a law passed last June that aims to fund better care for the aged and disabled by asking the nation to go to work on Whit Monday. The law followed an appeal to France's "fraternity and responsibility" by Mr Raffarin after the two-week heatwave, which killed more than 15,000 people. The extra €2bn (£1.4bn) in social security contributions and taxes raised by the May 16 National Solidarity Day is to go to a new fund for the vulnerable. The plan to give up one of France's 13 bank holidays was at first greeted with widespread approval. Ernest-Antoine Seilliere of the French employers' federation, hailed "a great novelty in France - the belief that problems can be solved by working harder". But the enthusiasm has worn off. CFTC, the trade union federation, said the project amounted to "forced labour" and contravened the European convention on human rights. It has called for it to be scrapped and said it would take the matter to the European court. Several other unions have called strikes for May 16, and a number of Socialist-led regional and city councils are maintaining May 16 as a bank holiday, prompting one cabinet minister to criticise the "egocentricity" of those who "are all for solidarity in theory, but when it comes down to it don't want to know".

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