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Ayrault launches his bid for growth

Unions and employers' leaders join prime minister at Matignon in bid to establish "dialogue" on social and labour reform

UNION and management leaders join Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault today for meetings intended to work out a "new view of social democracy" - leading to changes on jobs, pay and retirement.

Ayrault will meet the union leaders and bosses' representatives one-by-one at Matignan to hear their fears and hopes for the future and to seek ways to create growth in the economy.

He has already said he wants "negotiation" and "social dialogue" to be the basis for future decisions on social and labour reforms but has also said he is looking at an imminent rise in the smic minimum wage, measures to cut the pay of the heads of state-owned businesses, and a decree ordering partial return to retirement at 60.

However, he has also committed himself to cutting the national debt by the end of President Hollande's five-year term

On jobs, with unemployment around the 10% mark - and fears over soon-to-be-published statistics from April - union leaders from the CGT have prepared a list of 45,000 threatened job cuts across the country. It and others fear massive cuts are on the way in banks, large supermarkets, haulage business and the car and heavy vehicle industries. Laurence Parisot of employers' federation Medef doubts this, saying there has been "no explosion in job protection plans".

On pay, the CGT and other unions have called for the minimum wage to be raised to 80% of average pay - but Parisot has warned that this "would be bad news for jobs".

On retirement, Ayrault plans a decree to return to retirement at 60 for those who started work at the age of 18 and have 41 and a half years of social contributions. This is expected to cost about €1 billion a year over the next five years. President Sarkozy had raised the retirement age to 62 and Hollande had promised to "do away with this injustice".

Ayrault says he does not want the meetings - another one is planned for the beginning of July to work out details of a route to social and labour reform - to be mere talking shops.

His determination for change has already seen one result: a recent poll found he is France's most popular prime minister in the past 50 years.

Although he has been in the job less than two weeks, the Journal du Dimanche poll said he had a 65% approval rating.

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