French youth labour law defies EU age legislation

The controversial French youth labour law, which has sparked strikes and protests across the country, breaks European age discrimination legislation, legal experts have confirmed.

Under the new law, French employers will be able to end job contracts for workers under the age of 26 at any time during a two-year trial period, without having to offer a reason.

Michael Ball, employment partner at law firm Halliwells, said in light of a recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling in the case of Mangold v Helm, the law breaks age discrimination legislation as it treats workers differently on the basis of age. In its ruling, the ECJ said that age discrimination is already illegal despite laws not officially coming into effect until October, as it offends the “principle of international law”.

“[The new French law] effectively gives employers a free hand to employ someone and then let them go without fear before the two-year deadline,” Ball said. “It opens the door to the exploitation of younger workers.”

Critics warn that the new legislation, which currently only applies to small firms, could be misused by larger employers and make it even harder for young people to find a permanent job.

But the French government argues the measure will boost opportunities for young workers, many of whom can only find short-term contract work at best. After the two-year trial period, the contract would revert to a standard full-time contract.

More than 20% of the country’s 18 to 25-year-olds are unemployed – double the national average of 9.6%.

A nationwide day of strikes and protests is planned for today (Tuesday). A recent poll showed that 70% of French people are against the new law.


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