French self-employed threaten to boost jobless register in tax protest
By Catherine Bremer
PARIS (Reuters) - Self-employed French workers angered by plans to restrict their special tax status are urging supporters to sign up as unemployed and inflate already record-high jobless figures.
The plan, by a spin-off of an online protest group called "The Chicks" which has 70,000 supporters, would hit President Francois Hollande in his most vulnerable spot as he battles to meet a pledge to reverse the unemployment trend by year-end.
The self-employed cannot claim unemployment benefits but they hope the threat of adding to the 3.26 million registered as jobless could scare the government into burying plans to limit their "auto-entrepreneur" tax status to two years.
"You can register online with the unemployment office. It's easy. If it pushes up next month's jobless figures it would be catastrophic for the government," said Gregoire Leclercq, head of the French Auto-Entrepreneurs Federation.
Some 900,000 self-employed people, from hairdressers and language tutors to business developers, benefit on a permanent basis from reduced red tape and the right to pay social security charges as earnings come in rather than upfront.
Junior trade minister Sylvia Pinel wants to change that after complaints from construction firms that self-employed builders free of paperwork and social charges can undercut them.
A 19-year-old video games creator hatched "The Chicks" website after "The Pigeons" October Internet revolt won entrepreneurs exemptions from capital gains tax hikes.
Entrepreneurs say forcing people to register as formal businesses after two years of operation would crush start-ups just as France needs new jobs to pull it out of recession. Continued...