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I can't get a job as I'm not French

Alleged French prejudice towards foreign jobseekers leaves many well-qualified workers 'on the professional scrapheap'

SOME months ago - well before the recession - I wrote a piece which appeared in The Connexion under the title "Tackling French Prejudice in the Employment Market". Having invited comments from other readers I can report that a raw nerve has been touched in many a village.

It would appear I am far from the only one with the feeling that my un/underemployed status is based at least in part on my foreignness - 21 of 22 people who responded agreed with me.

Indeed, my financial, morale and status problems pale into insignificance compared to some people’s experiences.

Here is a sample of people’s feelings in their own words:

- We gave up trying to get jobs in the end and work for ourselves despite the fact that we both speak French well. We faced snappy, rude fonctionnaires at the Pôle Emploi with questions like ‘Why do you want to work anyway?’

- Sometimes I think the only foreign people happy living here are ones who have pots of money so they can circumvent the French system and have the option of zipping ‘home’ every few months to take care of rental properties, go to weddings, do shopping etc.

- I do not understand why my 23 years of work experience counts for nothing.

- Your statement “good enough to do the job, just not good enough to have one” is so apt. What a waste of human resources, knowledge and culture.

Then there were those from people thinking ahead:

- We have three grown-up girls who went through the French education system. I made them get French citizenship, as despite having a bac and being bilingual I realised that if they put “British” on their CVs they would be binned.

Others gave possible reasons. The first is a Frenchwoman returning after years in Britain:

- Even French qualifications would get you nowhere, unless you know someone who knows someone who can get you in a company. I have no hope of finding a job, I would need to be 20 years younger and have a degree.

Others were perplexed:

- I spent three years at a prestigious US university but I was told my education was next to non-existent since there was no way of comparing it to the French system. When I applied for a job as a sorter at a recycle plant I was told I did not have a certificate for sorting garbage.

- A Swedish friend in her early 40s works as a guide at a famous drinks company. After three years searching and sending out over 200 CVs, she finally got a seasonal job there, on the smic. She is in her third year there now. She has an MBA and she speaks Swedish, English, fluent French, German and Spanish. She had been employed in the UK and Sweden at a very high level for major companies and on excellent salaries, yet she is constantly passed over for promotion and kept on the smic for the summer only - better, non-seasonal posts always go to French candidates. She is resigned to it now.

One person had even done a local statistical survey:

- One of the 200 foreigners I know has a permanent job - 0.5%. Usually they are self-employed, working in non-permanent employment, working abroad or just existing on savings.

Another was desperate...

- Our Sarl went bust. We have been left penniless and have had the worst 14 months of our lives. We paid hugely into the system for seven years and it took five months to give us sickness benefit and then 10 months for us to get RMI, during which time we had to sell the tiles off the floor to survive. We have met with enormous racism - we were told by our assistant social (who has been very helpful but often ineffective) that the delay was because we were not French. They simply did not believe we had no hidden money or other income.

And even high flyers suffer...

- I read your article in Connexion and am happy to be able to assure you that you are not paranoid, but you are being discriminated against. A study published in 2000 showed 30% of French jobs were totally or partially forbidden to foreigners. I was Finance Manager of a multinational food group subsidiary in Paris where I stayed for 15 years becoming Finance Director with a team of 28 working for me. I was fired for refusing to allow the CEO to defraud the company. I am 52, have been unemployed for seven years and am now no longer required to search for a job and am waiting for a retirement pension. The only job that the Pôle Emploi has proposed to me was four mornings a week doing the accounts for a newspaper shop. I was previously earning about €100,000.

Despite practically all respondents being of the same mind, my piece fuelled heated opposition on a blog. I was accused as having a tribal mentality and of course there was that hoary old chestnut "if you don’t like it, go back."

I know only two Brits in a 100km radius whom I have seen more than once in the past twelve months - fairly modest as tribes go.

It was also suggested that we should be content to form a parallel economy as the Pakistanis did in Britain.

This fails to take into account the fact that we are part of Europe, and signed up to the free, fair and unimpeded movement of labour.

What is more no one had a good word for the conditions that they have had to endure when they have been lucky enough to find work, usually teaching.

Most people feel exploited, undervalued, ill-considered and badly-treated - they have shoddy or no contracts, no possibility of refresher training and are passed over for permanent posts which more often than not go to French people who are not obviously better qualified.

Still, let us remember that this is all just personal opinions and there is much I enjoy about living in France.

I just do not see why I have to be on the professional scrapheap, especially when I am just about fluent in French.

I too could serve in a shop, work in a bar or a tourist office.

We just want equal access to the job market. Liberté, égalité et fraternité they say - but égalité in the job market seems only to be for the French.

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