France’s new prime minister has said he wants to focus on manufacturing jobs as he tries to lead the country of a coronavirus-induced recession.
Jean Castex said he also wanted to attract jobs back to France that have been outsourced to lower-wage countries.
Last week, Air France warned it expected to cut more than 7,500 jobs. Other industries like car manufacturing and hospitality have also announced job losses since the pandemic hit France.
Speaking at the X-FAB factory, south of Paris, Castex announced French plans to tackle the recession.
Castex, was appointed prime minster in the aftermath of President Emmanuel Macron’s party losing local elections and before presidential election in two years.
The X-FAB factory plant, which makes semiconductors used in cars, phones and other equipment, received extensive government aid to withstand the coronavirus lockdown measures put in place by the French government.
“This is an industrial business and very much exposed to international competition. It was already (before the crisis) in difficulty, impacted by international competition and now in this economic crisis that has begun it might still be the case,” Castex said.
“So the government’s objective is to see how to not just act short term, in the framework of the (economic) relaunch, reconstruction plan and how to avoid a maximum of layoffs, [and also] how to ensure durability in long term industrial employments in our country for those exposed to competition.
“They know the next two years will be hard, with decisions that will need to be made to ensure it’s competitive. And this is where the government comes in and will need to accompany the business in this process.”
About half of the plant’s several thousand workers were given temporary unemployment benefits when the government ordered strict confinement measures to fight the virus.
The company also got a loan guaranteed by the state, according to Castex’s office.
Castex's speech did not lay out how his government would save jobs. Before being named prime minister on Friday, Castex co-ordinated France’s strategy for gradually easing lockdown measures and reviving economic activity.
Castex, a technocrat from the centre-right, was named as the new head of the executive just weeks after he was tapped to lead the French recovery strategy on the coronavirus lockdown. Mr Castex worked for former president Nicolas Sarkozy and was also appointed by President Macron as a ministerial delegate to the International Olympic Committee.
Macron vowed to chart a new course for the remaining two years of his term after a poor performance by government allies in last week's municipal elections.
France is grappling with the deepest economic depression since World War Two, a sharp downturn that will shrink the economy by about 11 per cent in 2020 and reverse hard-fought gains on unemployment.