RPT-UPDATE 1-Spain December jobless falls on holiday hiring

Thu Jan 3, 2013 8:58am EST

* Dip of 1.2 pct is first monthly fall since July - Labour Ministry

* 4.8 million people out of work in Spain

* Data viewed as less reliable than unemployment rate

MADRID, Jan 3 (Reuters) - The number of people out of work in Spain fell by 1.2 percent in December, labour ministry data showed, marking the first monthly decline since July as the service sector stepped up hiring in the run-up to Christmas.

Thursday's data means 4.8 million people are unemployed in the euro zone's fourth-biggest economy.

The monthly figure records the number of Spaniards registered as out of work, and is considered less reliable than the country's official unemployment rate.

That rate hit a record 25 percent in the third quarter to September, the highest since the Franco dictatorship ended in the 1970s.

The only comparable level in the euro zone is in Greece which, in recession for six years, recorded a monthly unemployment rate of 26 percent in September.

Spain's economy is also contracting under the weight of 60 billion euros ($79 billion) worth of budget cuts, and expected to dip 1.5 percent this year - likely leaving even more people out of work

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government, under pressure to meet budget deficit targets, has also shaken up working regulations to make it easier to hire and fire people.