Thursday, April 20, 2006

L'argent fait le bonheur

France's cherished generosity in social welfare is crumbling in all sorts of ways. Many column inches have been devoted over the past few weeks to Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's hasty retreat after planned legislation to allow employers to sack staff under the age of 26 after two years with no explanation sparked massive student protests.

I discovered a less glamourous and less shouted-about piece of social injustice this morning as part of my day job. France's biotech drug industry is slowly finding its feet again after several years of consolidation. There are several factors behind this renaissance, but the one that concerns me the most is a money-saving strategy devised by the government. Instead of public or even private subsidisation, biotech firms that have been operational for eight years or less and who plough at least 15% of their annual expenditure into R&D, are entitled to cut corners by being exempt from making obligatory social security payments to their employees who are carrying out the research.

In other words, significantly restricted access to healthcare, family and pension benefits. Nice. I'm all in favour of greater scientific advances, particularly those that concern human health. But surely there must be a way of fostering progress with cutting back on basic employee benefits?

Hat tip: Dow Jones


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