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The French youth labour law

April 02, 2006

The French are just about to pass a new labour law that makes it easier to hire and fire people under 26.

I don’t know all the details, but on the surface, it doesn’t really seem right. The history of Europe and really the whole Western culture has been a history of fighting against discrimination. Abolishing wealth census on eligibility to vote and universal suffrage were great advances of democracy, as well as equal employment laws, laws against discrimination of people with disabilities etc, which are great achievements of the European thought. And now suddenly, here’s a classic textbook case of age discrimination???

Age discrimination is no different from race, gender or other kinds of discrimination – it is preventing one group of people from performing adequately in the society and gives an unfair advantage to the others. There are perfectly valid reasons to treat people under 18 differently from the rest, and in some special cases the age limits are even higher, such as being allowed to run for a seat in the parliament or becoming a judge or president or the like.

But in case of universal employment law, treating people below 26 differently from the rest to me just sends a signal that France is not really serious about its reform plans. It should be easy to hire and fire everyone, not just young people. Maybe they thought that if they only focus on the younger age group, they won’t go backlashes, because if they did it for everyone, all the workers go on strike and it won’t work? A welfare state is nice, but I myself really don’t believe in strong labour protection, permanent employment and trade unions – I believe that great individuals can stand up for themselves, constantly learn to adapt to new realities and make their own career choices without needing the state to bully employers on their behalf.