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France vows to get tough on job seekers

Joshua Melvin · 2 Sep 2014, 12:28

Published: 02 Sep 2014 12:28 GMT+02:00

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Amid stagnant economic growth and record unemployment, you would be forgiven for thinking paid work was in scarce supply in France.

However, according to the government there are some 350,000 jobs available, but which France's state employment agency Pôle Emploi is having a hard time filling.

As a result Labour Minister François Rebsamen has ordered the leadership of the Pôle Emploi to "reinforce checks" to make sure benefit recipients are in fact "looking for a job," he told i-Télé on Tuesday.
"It's not acceptable, in a struggling country that wants to recover, to have people not looking for work, where jobs are available," he said, adding he doesn't believe it applies to the majority of job seekers. 
The minister said he wants Pôle Emploi to consider things like check-in appointments with job seekers and other verification measures, which could mean an end to benefits for people who aren't actively looking for work.
Rebsamen's statement caused outrage among trade union leaders.
"The words of François Rebsamen are disgraceful and obscene...this leftist government is carrying out rightist policies," CGT national secretary Jean François Kiefer told i-Télé. "We must not confuse fraudsters for the majority of people who are really looking for work."
However, even if all 350,000 jobs Rebsamen referenced, were filled tomorrow it would only make a roughly 10 percent dent in the historically large pool of 3.42 million people looking for work in France. That's the number according to official stats from INSEE, but many consider the number of unemployed in France to be much higher.
July was the ninth straight month that unemployment has risen for French workers, which means some 500,000 more job seekers have ended up without work since the election of François Hollande in 2012.
"Every month I confront its gravity," Hollande told France Info recently. "Behind the numbers, there are men and women who are suffering, who have lost their jobs in formerly industrial areas, where companies didn't evolve, adapt to the making of innovative products."
It's not the first time a labour minister has vowed to crackdown on phony job seekers, indeed it has become a habit over recent years, as Europe 1 radio points out.
Earlier this year a new system was trialed in four regions around France, where special agents were employed to track down those who were cheating the system.
It has not been confirmed whether there are plans to roll out the system across France.
Story continues below…
The recent government turmoil which led to a cabinet reshuffle was sparked by disagreements inside the Hollande administration over how to fix the French economy. While the president has pursued a policy of austerity-like cuts and tax breaks for businesses that are intended to spur hiring, his opponents see it as a failed strategy.
Former Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg, who got the boot for publicly slamming the president's plan, has said austerity is a failed policy.
“The austerity policies of tax hikes and reductions in public spending decided by the government are today the cause of the useless prolongation and the aggravation of the economic crisis, and the unnecessary suffering of Europe’s citizens,” Montebourg said in his final moments at the economy ministry.  

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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