Backlash, and Some Nods, After Macron Tells Off an Unemployed Gardener

(Bloomberg) -- A widely circulated video that shows French President Emmanuel Macron telling a young unemployed gardener he could easily find a job if he looked drew scorn and insults on social media. But business executives this week say his latest outburst may be right.

During a national festival on Saturday when official buildings are open to visitors, Macron told the man who said he was looking for a position as a gardener that jobs are available in “lots of professions, you just have to go look. Hotels, cafes, restaurants. I cross the street and I can find you some.”

It was the latest aside from Macron, who in his 15 months in office has made numerous comments that have been interpreted to mean the French are lazy or resistant to change. His popularity has sunk in recent months partly because of comments that many French find demeaning. It hasn’t helped that France’s unemployment has barely budged at 9.2 percent, compared with 9.5 percent when Macron became president.

But on Tuesday, Philippe Marien, the deputy director general of construction company Bouygues SA, concurred with the president. He said his company can’t even fill training centers, let alone jobs.

“Ok, it’s not enough just to cross the street, you need certain qualifications,” he said. “But in construction we have trouble finding people.”

Mismatched Supply

In what is a classic mismatch of skills and jobs, there are several sectors in France that are struggling to find people even as joblessness remains high. The Bouygues comment followed remarks Monday by Roland Heguy, president of UMIH, the main confederation of hotels and restaurants, who appreciated the president’s observations.

“Thank you Mr. President for shedding light on our sector,” he said. “Our sector is facing a historic drought of manpower.” He invited Macron to the confederation’s annual congress between Dec. 4-6 near Lyon.

UMIH said in a statement that the 220,000 hotels and restaurants in France have created 20,000 jobs since the start of the year, but still have between 50,000 and 100,000 positions that are unfilled.

Web Disdain

That reality aside, Macron’s comments were received with disdain over the weekend.

“Where does this man live?” Jean-Luc Melenchon, the far-left former presidential candidate, posted on Twitter Sunday. “Who has ever so odiously insulted the French who live in difficulty?”

A photo-montage made the rounds on social media showing a button on a pedestrian crossing with a sign saying: “The French: to find a job push the button and cross.” Another showed a triangular danger sign showing a pedestrian on a zebra crossing and “Attention: the unemployed.”

“In a country with 300,000 unfilled jobs and 3 million unemployed, and companies that say they can’t hire, can’t we calmly discuss the efficiency of our job centers and systems,” the government’s spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Wednesday during a press briefing. “What shocks me is the tranquility of French politicians for decades about this situation. That’s what shocking, not what the president said.”

Jonathan Jahan, the young man told off by Macron, wasn’t amused. “What he said was not normal,” he told Europe1 radio Tuesday. “It was a like a blow. I felt like asking him to come looking for work with me.” He said he has looked for jobs in restaurants, without success.

Jahan was visiting the Elysee gardens as part of the weekend’s open-door “Patrimony Days.” He hadn’t expected to see Macron, but when the president came out to greet visitors,
Jahan told Europe 1 radio, he decided to take his chance and talk about his inability to find a job as a gardener. Later Tuesday, during another interview, this time with France 5 television, Jahan said he had been finally contacted by the French gardening association and was offered jobs. As a gardener.

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