France to crack down on job seekers on benefits

France’s employment agency began tightening the leash on jobseekers claiming benefits on Monday as the country battles critics who say its system is far too generous and allows for claimants to take advantage.

France to crack down on job seekers on benefits
France is to beef up checks on jobseekers to make sure they are actually looking for work. Photo: AFP

Around 2,000 agents have been drafted in by the country’s employment agency Pôle Emploi to carry out checks on job seekers and make sure they are actually in the hunt for work.

The agents are also tasked with trying to help those who have fallen by the wayside and may need help or motivation to find work.

The new regime is being rolled out in three regions: Franche-Comté, Poitou-Charentes and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, but will eventually be implemented across the country in November.

The move comes at a time when France is suffering from record high unemployment. The latest figures revealed that there are as many 5.8 million people signed up at Pôle Emploi.

If the agent is not satisfied that the job seeker is doing enough to find work then they could lose their right to unemployment benefit for up to six months.

Some 200 extra agents have been employed to target around 180,000 job seekers each year.

The French system of unemployment benefit, known as assurance chômage, is considered one of the most generous in Europe.

Critics however say it is too lax by allowing people to claim around two thirds of their previous salary for a period of up to two years, without putting enough pressure on them to prove they are looking for work.

In the UK for example anyone claiming jobseekers' allowance is required to visit a job centre every two weeks and show what they have done to find work. After six months they may be required to take any position offered to them or risk losing benefits.

SEE ALSO: Jobless benefits –  Give me France over UK any day

A survey carried out by Pôle Emploi appears to back this theory with as many as 50 percent of “chômeurs” in Franche-Comté found to be not actively seeking work.

Many were discouraged due to health reasons, housing issues or their age.

Keeping tabs on jobseekers in a sensitive issue in France and the extra controls have been blasted by trade unions.

“We are asking unemployed people to be accountable but this month, only 600 permanent jobs (CDI) were signed out of a total of 22,700 jobseekers in our département,” said Vladimir Bizet-Sefanui from the union CGT-Chomeurs in the department of Morbihan, Brittany.

“With figures as bad as that, how can we justify such controls?”

“Many unemployed people have lost their footing and all we offer them is precariousness,” he added.





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Unemployment in France falls slightly despite the lockdown

Unemployment in France has fallen slightly, despite the ongoing ravages of the health crisis and consequent lockdown, latest statistics show.

Unemployment in France falls slightly despite the lockdown
Photo: Stephane du Sakatin/AFP

The number of unemployed job seekers in mainland France fell by 0.4 percent in the first three months of 2021, according to figures published by the French Ministry of Labour on Tuesday.

There were 3,560,600 unemployed registered at the Pôle Emploi (unemployment office), 12,200 fewer than during the last three months of 2020.

This follows a 2.7 percent fall in the final three months of 2020 – but the rate is still up 6.8 percent compared with the first three months of 2020, before Europe began to feel the economic impact of the Covid pandemic.

Currently all ‘non essential’ shops in France have been closed since April 3rd, while bars, restaurants, cafés, gyms, cinemas, theatres, museums and tourist sites have been closed since October 2020.

Despite the fall the total number of job seekers, the number of people who were in work but with reduced hours was up by 0.8 percent at the start of 2021, to 2,156,300.

That means that in total 5,716,900 people in mainland France were registered with Pôle emploi during this period, an increase of 4.9 percent compared with a year ago.

“Over the course of 2020, in one year, unemployment rose by 8 percent. This is obviously a lot, but we must remember that during the crisis of 2008-2009, unemployment leapt by 25 percent, so we can see that the government assistance is working,” Minister of Labour Élisabeth Borne told BFMTV on Tuesday.

The French government has put together a huge package of economic aid to try and mitigate the effects of the repeated lockdowns, from chômage partiel (furlough) schemes for employees to aid packages for business owners and the self-employed. But many small retailers have been hit hard by the three periods of closure for non-essential shops, while the tourist, leisure and hospitality sectors have also had a devastating year.

The economic downturn linked to the pandemic has disproportionately affected young people in France.  Across all categories of job seekers (unemployed and with reduced hours), the latest figures show a rise of 7.1 percent in a year for those under 25, compared to 4.5 percent for the 25-29 age range, and 4.8 percent for those aged 50 and over.

Men are also more likely to have signed up to Pôle emploi, with a 6.1 percent increase on last year, compared to a 3.8 percent increase among women.