French jobless total hits 14-year high

PARIS Tue Nov 27, 2012 3:58pm EST

PARIS (Reuters) - The number of people out of work in France soared again in October to hit its highest level in 14-and-a-half years, piling pressure on Socialist President Francois Hollande who has promised to halt the relentless rise by the end of 2013.

Labour Ministry data showed the number of jobseekers in mainland France rose by 45,400, or 1.5 percent, to hit 3.103 million, marking the 18th consecutive monthly increase and taking the total to its highest level since April 1998.

The increase was only slightly smaller than in October which saw the biggest jump in jobless rolls since April 2009, showing the deterioration in the job market is accelerating as recession in the broader euro zone hits demand.

France's 1.9 trillion euro ($2.46 trillion) economy has been virtually stagnant since grinding to a halt at the end of last year, and many economists expect it to contract in the months ahead despite a surprise 0.2 percent rise in the third quarter.

With the economy still struggling, the Labour Ministry said there was a risk the figures could get even worse.

But it noted that new measures to bolster company investment and the youth job market that will kick in from next year have yet to produce results.

"This run of negative figures on employment only increases our resolve to do something to reverse the trend between now and the end of next year," Labour Minister Michel Sapin said in a statement.

Hollande won power in May on a pledge to cut unemployment, but has since had to grapple with a wave of layoff announcements that have damaged his popularity and sapped public morale.

The government unveiled a set of measures at the start of November, including sweeping tax rebates for companies, aimed at boosting industrial competitiveness and safeguarding jobs.

French business newspaper Les Echos said Hollande was now planning a faster rollout of the rebates so that they reach full speed within two years instead of the three year build-up initially envisaged.

Meanwhile, Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg has been increasingly vocal in his criticism of companies mulling job losses. He shocked steelmaker ArcelorMittal this week, fanning tensions over two threatened blast furnaces, by saying its CEO was no longer welcome in France.

With the pace of job losses rising steadily, surveys show the public wants more than promises to save the economy, and economists want deeper structural reforms.

The Labour Ministry data is the most frequently reported domestic jobs indicator for France, although it is not prepared according to widely used International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards nor expressed as a rate of the number of job seekers compared with the total work force.

($1 = 0.7733 euros)

(Reporting by Vicky Buffery; Editing by Ron Askew and Alison Williams)