Outlook bleak as Hollande hails 2013 'battle for jobs'
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French President François Hollande has hailed 2013 as the year of the "great battle for jobs". But figures released Thursday show a rise in the jobless rate for the nineteenth consecutive month – and the forecast is for worse to come.
France's faltering economy shed a further 30,000 jobs in November, according to new figures released Thursday, pushing the unemployment rate to its highest level in almost 15 years.
The alarming data, although expected, is another blow to the country’s Socialist government and its president, who called earlier in the day for a collective “mobilisation” to deal with the ongoing employment crisis.
With France’s unemployment rate crashing through the symbolic 10% mark this year, the president could offer no seasonal cheer when he made a surprise visit to Europe's largest wholesale market in Rungis, south of Paris.
“During this festive season I have to tell the French that it must be all hands on deck in the battle against unemployment,” said the president, who decided not to take any Christmas holidays following criticism in the French media when he took time off in August.
“My goal is that unemployment, which has been rising for nearly two years now, begins to decline,” Hollande said, though admitting this may not happen until the end of 2013.
The worsening outlook has put France’s Minister for Employment Michel Sapin in the spotlight. Sapin was summoned to the Elysée on Wednesday for a summit with Hollande to discuss the latest gloomy figures.
After the meeting the minister’s words to the press showed he and the president, at least publicly, were singing from the same hymn sheet, when he promised “maximum mobilisation”.
“Everyone must accept their responsibilities, government and unions alike,” Sapin said.
Delayed redundancy plans
An investigation by French daily Le Parisien on Thursday suggested the problem is even more alarming than the figures show because there are thousands of jobless in France who have disappeared off the radar.
Although the official figure for the number of unemployed in France stands at around three million, Le Parisien estimates the true figure could be as high as 9 million, when part-time workers and those who are not on the books of the country’s job centres (Pôle emploi) are taken into account.
France, of course, is not alone in the mire. Latest figures for the eurozone revealed record unemployment levels of 11.7 percent, with a total of 18.7 million out of work.
Although the situaton in France is nowhere near as dire as in Spain, where 26.2 percent of adults are out of work, it has placed the Socialist government under immense pressure after only seven months in office.
The government has not been helped by the fact that companies, including car giant PSA Peugot-Citroen, delayed the announcement of their much-feared redundancy plans until after last spring's elections.
Mass job cuts are expected to continue into 2013.
According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), 75,000 jobs will be lost in the first six months of 2013, half of which will be in industry.
INSEE expects the unemployment rate to reach 10.9 percent by the middle of 2013, the highest rate since 1997.
Calls for structural reform
But the reasons for France’s struggle with rising unemployment appear to run deeper than the delayed job cuts.
Earlier this year former Airbus chief Louis Gallois, who was commissioned by the government to report on France’s declining competitiveness, concluded major structural reforms were needed to create jobs.
His report called for cuts to payroll taxes worth 30 billion euros ($38.54 billion) and a loosening of labour laws to reverse a long decline in industrial competitiveness that has eaten away at exports and bled factory jobs.
France, like other eurozone countries, also faces the tough task of trying to create jobs for its young people.
Hollande had vowed the youth would be central to his mandate, but the number of young people out of work continues to rise, with 24 percent officially registered as unemployed.
Although there are numerous internships on offer for young French people, there is a lack of paid employment. François Béharel, the president of employment agency Randstad France, told the New York Times one of the problems lay in the country’s education system.
“We’ve piled up battalions of students in general education, and everyone knows that there aren’t 10,000 among them who are going to find the job that they imagined when they entered university,” he said.
“We have to begin with parents ‘Stop dreaming of white collars!’ ” Mr. Béharel said. “Blue collars, there really is a true path for them,” he said.
Francois Hollande and his government will be hoping a major step in the battle against unemployment will be taken in early January when unions resume talks with employers' representatives to thrash out a deal on reforms to the labour market.
Hollande will be hoping both sides willl have heard his call for “collective mobilisation”.