The figures that tell the story of the state of France’s jobs market

Average wages, unequal pay, fewer permanent contracts... New data released this week gives an insight into the current state of the French jobs market. Here are some key numbers.

The figures that tell the story of the state of France's jobs market
Photo: AFP

French statistics agency INSEE has released its 2017 report on the country's jobs market titled: “Work, Unemployment and Wages”.

Here are the main figures to know about.

Permanent contracts getting harder to come by

Imagine that way back in 1984 some 94 percent of workers in France were on permanent contracts known as CDIs. But by 2016 that figure has dropped to 85.3 percent, although to be fair that seems fairly high when compared to anecdotal evidence of young workers being given temporary (CDD) contracts one after the other.

As would be expected the number of workers on temporary CDD contracts has risen from 5 percent in 1984 to 11 percent in 2016. That will be no surprise to the Frenchwoman who is suing her employer who she claims gave her 1,177 CDDs over 12 years.

France is creating tens of thousands of jobs

There’s a lot of negativity around France’s jobs market but stats from INSEE show that in 2016 some 255,000 new salaried jobs were created in the country. That compares favourably with the 124,000 new jobs that were created in 2015.

INSEE puts this down to the fact that the cost of labour, which French employers regularly complain about, has not risen by more than one percent in recent years, whereas up to 2012 it rose by an average of 3 percent.

INSEE says tax credits and cuts to payroll charges undertaken by former President François Hollande’s government helped boost jobs creation.

No égalité when it comes to pay

France still has far to go before it can really match its mantra as the country of égailité – at least when it comes to pay. In fact the average wage for a woman working in the private sector is 14 percent lower than for men.

INSEE partly explains this gulf by noting that women have some characteristics which don’t favour a higher salary, whether it’s the sector of activity they work in or the fact there are fewer in senior roles.

INSEE also suggest that part of the salary gap is not necessarily to do with discrimination but the fact that some French women value professional experience less than men.

But the pay gap is closing INSEE say.

Annual unemployment dropped for first time since 2009

In 2016 the annual unemployment rate dropped for the first time in France since 2009. It stood at 9.7 percent of the active working population (in mainland France), after having risen by 2.1 percentage points since 2007. In other words some three million workers were looking for jobs in 2016.

Unemployment does not affect all workers

Unemployment, as you’ll know, has been a big issue in France in recent years due to the fact it has reached record levels and the government has struggled to bring it down.

But not all workers are at the same risk of spending time out of work. For middle managers or execs – basically higher earners, known as cadres in France, the rate of unemployment is down at 3.5 percent. But for lower paid blue-collar workers and labourers the rate of joblessness is 14.9 percent.

In general cadres, with an average salary of €4,100 a month earn 2.4 times as much as blue-collar workers in France, who earn an average of €1,700.

But… middle managers work far more

Remember that the famous 35-hour legal working week does not apply to middle managers and executives (cadres) in France. As a result they work, on average, 222 hours more each year than manual/blue-collar workers.

More older workers, fewer younger workers

In terms of the active working population INSEE found that the percentage of people aged between 55 and 64-years old actively in work had increased by 13.6 percent thanks in the main to reforms around the pension systems and legal retirement age. On the other hand the number of 15 to 24-year-olds in work decreased to 36.9 percent, the main reason being young people extending their studies.

Who said France had no industry left?

Those who lament the loss of France’s industry might be surprised to hear that in 2016 one in five people in work in France were in fact blue collar/manual workers (20.3 percent).

Average salary rises to €2,230/month

The average salary for a full time worker employed in the private sector stands at €2,230 per month (net, meaning after social charges have been paid, but not income tax), which represents a slight rise of 0.5 percent after four years where the average salary roughly remained stable.

Salaries higher in public than private sector

According to INSEE a public service worker or civil servant earned on average €2,650/month in 2014, which represents 18.8 percent more than the average wage in the private sector (€2,230 a month).

INSEE has a simple explanation.

“In the public sector workers are on average far more experienced and better experienced than those in the private sector,” INSEE’s Elise Coudin explained.

She explained that category A civil servants, in other words the top earners, are over represented in the public sector, which pushes up average wages compared to the private sector.

Workers of North African origin have a much harder time

The INSEE study also revealed that those workers of North African origins (Magrebins) have a more difficult time when it comes to finding and holding on to employment than other workers of different origins.

The unemployment rate is higher, they earn less, there is an average salary ceiling of around €3,000 a month, and the jobs they have are often more unstable when compared to workers of other origins.

For members


How to get a summer job in France

As the summer holidays approach in France, many employers are looking for seasonal workers - so if you're looking for a summer job, here's how to go about it.

How to get a summer job in France

There are thousands of employment offers in France – a simple internet search for jobs d’été came up with numerous jobs boards offering work in France, while the government-backed Centre d’Information et de Documentation pour la Jeunesse (CIDJ) offers advice and information on all aspects of life for young people in France, including finding seasonal work and summer placements.

Sectors including agriculture, hospitality and tourism are always recruiting in the summer, seeking fruit-pickers, holiday camp workers and serving/hotel staff.

But what are the rules for people seeking summer jobs?

READ ALSO Vendange: What you really sign up for when you agree to help with the French wine harvest


Children from the age of 16 (under certain circumstances, the age limit drops to 14) who are legally resident in France can work as long as they have written authorisation from their parents or legal guardians. A model authorisation letter is available here

Those under the age of 18 cannot undertake certain jobs for health and safety reasons.

In the following circumstances, children as young as 14 or 15 can work during school holidays.

  • The holidays must last at least 14 days;
  • The child must work no more than half the days of the holiday – so, if a vacation period is two weeks, they can work for no more than one of those weeks;
  • The child is given ‘light duties’ that offer no risk to their safety, health, or development;
  • From the age of 15 and if the child has completed their troisieme education, a minor can register for an apprenticeship. 


Salary is usually paid monthly and will have a payslip. For those aged 18 and over, pay will be at least equal to the minimum wage.

 For those aged 14 to 17, who have less than six months’ professional experience, the minimum allowed rate is 80 percent of the minimum wage. For those aged 17 to 18, the rate rises to a minimum of 90 percent of France’s minimum wage.

  • The minimum wage in France is currently €10.85 gross per hour (€1,645.58 gross per month based on a 35-hour week);
  • the employment contract is fixed-term and can take different forms (fixed-term contract, seasonal employment contract, temporary employment contract, etc);
  • Seasonal employees are subject to the same obligations as the other employees of the company and have access to the same benefits (canteens, breaks, etc.).

Under 18s have certain additional protections:

  • between the ages of 14 and 16, during school holidays, employees on any contract cannot work more than 35 hours per week nor more than 7 hours per day;
  • They cannot work at night;
  • Those aged 14 to under 16 working during their school holidays can only be assigned to work which is not likely to harm their safety, their health or development.

Right to work in France

If you’re a French citizen or hold permanent residency in France then you have the right to work, but for foreigners there are extra restrictions.

Anyone who holds the passport of a EU/EEA country or Switzerland, is free to work in France or to travel to France seeking work without needing a visa or work permit.

Most other people will need permission to work in France – even if it’s only for a short period or for casual work such as grape-picking. Depending on your country of origin you may need a visa – everything you need to know about that is here.

In addition to the visa, you may also need a work permit, which is the responsibility of the employer.  To employ anyone in France for less than 90 days, an employer must get a temporary work permit – before the prospective employee applies for a short stay visa. This permit is then sent to the embassy at which the employee is applying for a visa.

If you come from countries including the UK, USA and Canada you can spend up to 90 days in France without a visa – but you may still need a work (convention d’accueil) if you want to work while you are here.

READ ALSO Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in France

Certain countries have specific ‘seasonal worker’ visas on offer, for certain sectors which allows – for example – Canadians to come to France and work the ski season. 

Cash-in-hand jobs

Certain sectors which have a lot of casual workers – for example seasonal fruit-picking – do have cash-in-hand jobs, known in France as marché noir (black market) or simply travail au black (working on the black, or working illegally). 

This is of course illegal and working this way carries risks – as well as the possibility of losing your job if labour inspectors turn up you are also in a vulnerable position. If your employer suddenly decides not to pay you, or make unexpected deductions from your wages, there is very little you can do about it since you won’t have any kind of work contract.