* More than 3.2 mln jobless, 11.5 pct y/y increase
* Data deals further blow to unpopular government
By Ingrid Melander
PARIS, April 25 More people were out of job in
France in March than at any other time in the past, data on
Thursday showed, a bleak record that cast new doubt on
government promises to reverse the unemployment trend by
The new 3.225 million record, an 11.5 percent annual
increase, is a symbolic blow to Socialist President Francois
Hollande, whose approval ratings have sunk to the lowest of any
modern French leader in recent months as jobless claims soared.
It is also likely to add to a growing debate in the euro
zone about whether the bloc has gone too far in an austerity
drive meant to fight its debt crisis, on a day where Spain also
announced record-high unemployment.
Battling to make good on his promise to reverse the rise in
unemployment by the end of this year, Hollande has launched
subsidised youth-job schemes and pushed through a reform to make
hiring and firing slightly easier.
Yet the number of registered job seekers in mainland France
rose by 1.2 percent in March, marking a 23rd straight monthly
rise and reaching the worst level since records began in January
1996, the labour ministry said.
France's unemployment rate as calculated by International
Labour Organisation methodology has risen to 10.6 percent.
With a wave of industrial layoffs taking effect, the March
jobless figure of 3,224,600 not only soared further above the 3
million level hit last August but beat the previous all-time
record of 3,195,500 set in January 1997.
Hollande on Thursday reaffirmed his goal to reverse the
rising trend, calling on his government to combine with industry
and other players to use all means possible to create jobs.
"Everything the government does, in every ministry, must be
to continue to strengthen the battle for jobs," he told a news
conference during a state visit to China. "I want all the French
people to unite behind this one national priority."
In a satirical dig at Hollande, steelworkers in eastern
France erected a marble tombstone to his election promises on
Wednesday as ArcelorMittal permanently shut two blast
furnaces many had hoped he could save.
In a bitter irony, the only place to have announced any
major hiring plan recently is the national employment agency
Pole Emploi, which said last month it would hire 2,000 extra
staff by September.
Auto-makers, once major job-providers, have announced
thousands of staff cuts, with PSA Peugeot Citroen
scrapping more than 10,000 domestic jobs and rival Renault
aiming to cut 7,500 posts in France by 2016.
The labour ministry data are the most frequently reported
jobs indicator in the country, although they are not prepared
according to ILO standards nor expressed as a percentage.
The March data also showed that the average time that
jobseekers spend on the jobless roster hit a new multi-year high
of 485 days, a level that was last reached in April 2000.
France is not an isolated case in the euro zone, nor is it
the worst hit, with Spanish unemployment reaching 6.2 million
people in the first quarter. In the bloc as a whole, joblessness
has risen steadily throughout most of the financial crisis to
reach 12.0 percent this year.
France has been pushing its euro zone partners, in
particular EU power house Germany, for months to do more to
boost growth and relax budget deficit targets.
"At a time when France seems to be burying itself in
recession, there is clearly a need to go further down the path
of structural reforms, for the sake of future employment," said
ING economist Julien Manceaux.
"However, current figures might increase the government's
efforts to stop the European emphasis on austerity."