Wed, Sep 19, 2018 - Page 6 News List

French president draws fire over jobless remark


French President Emmanuel Macron poses for a selfie as visitors are allowed access to the Elysee Palace in Paris on Saturday as part of France’s Heritage Days.

Photo: Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron has sparked criticism over comments to an unemployed man deemed insensitive.

However, is it really possible, as he claimed, to find a job in a Parisian restaurant just by crossing the street?

Welcoming the public to the Elysee Palace on Saturday as part of an open-doors event, Macron got talking to a 25-year-old who said he was having no luck finding work as a gardener.

“I send resumes and cover letters, they don’t lead to anything,” he told Macron, in a clip that quickly went viral.

Macron advised him to head to the bustling Montparnasse neighborhood of Paris, saying he could find a job as a waiter in the blink of an eye.

“If you’re willing and motivated, in hotels, cafes and restaurants, construction, there’s not a single place I go where they don’t say they’re looking for people,” he said.

“If I crossed the street I’d find you one,” he said.

The exchange ended with a handshake, but provided instant ammunition for leftist critics of Macron, a former investment banker, accusing him of being patronizing and out of touch with ordinary people.

The Liberation daily went so far as to draw a comparison with the supposed suggestion by France’s last queen, Marie-Antoinette, that if the poor had no bread, they should eat cake instead.

After several previous headline-grabbing encounters with members of the public, including telling off a teenager for not calling him “Mr President,” the paper advised Macron to stop “lecturing everyone.”

Elected in May last year on a promise to reinvigorate a sluggish economy, unemployment has yet to budge much under Macron’s pro-business policies.

He is keen to encourage people to move between sectors to bring joblessness down from its current rate of 9.1 percent.

However, Liberation accused Macron of “a purely technocratic vision under which if there are vacant jobs all you need to do is stick jobseekers in them, regardless of their training, their situation, or what they want to do with their lives.”

“Blaming [jobseekers for their unemployment] in the style of Marie-Antoinette, that’s what is weighing this presidency down,” it said.

Yet some have sprung to Macron’s defense over his advice to the gardener, saying France does indeed have a surplus of low-skilled jobs in the construction and restaurant industries.

Industry officials say there are up to 100,000 hotel and restaurant jobs that need filling in France, and have even called on Macron to grant legal status to more illegal immigrants to help cover the shortage.

Montparnasse, a commercial district whose bistrots were once favored hangouts for the likes of Ernest Hemingway, is indeed packed with restaurants.

Many of their managers say they are chronically short-staffed, suffering high turnover due to high pressure and unsociable hours.

“We sometimes have to refuse customers or groups because we don’t have enough workers,” said the maitre d’ at La Rotonde, the upmarket restaurant where Macron celebrated winning the first round of the presidential election.

Declining to give his name, he added however that the restaurant was selective in its hiring.

“We’re looking for serious people. They have to want to work,” he said.

Jose Vicente, a waiter at the nearby Kibaloma cafe, said “absolutely,” restaurant jobs were available, although contrary to Macron’s words “you can’t just cross the road to find one.”

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