French Parliament Passes Revised Jobs Law

The upper house of France's parliament on Thursday approved a revision of a youth job law that brought thousands of students and union members into the streets, completing an embarrassing reversal for President Jacques Chirac's government.

In another key sign that the 2-month-old crisis was winding down, police dismantled metal barricades outside the prestigious Sorbonne University in Paris. The barricades were erected after angry students occupied for several days in mid-March.

The Senate voted 158-123 in favor of the new measure, largely on support of Chirac's ruling conservatives. The National Assembly, the lower house, approved it a day earlier. The measure now goes to Chirac, who has 15 days to sign it into law, and he is widely expected to do so.

The revised bill came after the government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin backpedaled on a bolder initiative that sparked the protests across France.

The vote alters an equal opportunity law enacted earlier this month by stripping out the contested "first jobs contract" and inserting enhancements to existing programs.

The compromise, hammered out between unions and governing party lawmakers, includes training programs and internships for disadvantaged youths.

Students and unions, whose weeks of demonstrations, strikes and other protests forced Chirac's hand, had vowed to remain vigilant until the compromise plan made its way through parliament.

Under pressure from the streets, Chirac on Monday scrapped the measure, which had been designed to combat high youth unemployment in France. The protest movement has dwindled dramatically since then.

The plan approved Thursday focuses on four new measures that extend existing laws and boost the government's role in the workplace, instead of decreasing it, as Villepin had wanted.

They include training for disadvantaged youths, such as those who rioted in largely immigrant big city suburbs last year. Some 160,000 youths would be affected by the new measures this year, at a cost of $180 million to the state.

Villepin devised the law as a way to inject flexibility into France's rigid labor market and encourage job creation by making it easier for companies to hire -- and fire -- young workers. Opponents feared it would erode the job security French workers covet.