President Emmanuel Macron vowed during his election campaign last year that he would make the benefits system fairer – including opening it up to entrepreneurs for the first time – but also warned that he would demand more in return.
His government this week unveiled the new rules it plans to include in legislation that will be presented to parliament later this year.
It will also triple to 600 by 2019 the number of staff monitoring jobseekers and add a further 400 by 2020, the labour ministry said after briefing union leaders on its plans.
Jobseekers who don’t play the game could see their benefits stopped for up to four months.
Currently a jobless person gets benefits that equal about 80 percent of the pay they earned at their last job (as long as they were not sacked or quit) – and the benefits, which can reach a maximum of €6,120 a month, are paid for two, and sometimes three, years.
On average, however, French job seekers are on an allowance of just over €1,000 per month.
- Is France really the best country to be unemployed in?
- Crackdown on French job seekers reveals abuse of generous benefits system
The current rules let them turn down all job offers that are not for work in the same field as they previously worked in nor in the same part of the country.
But under the planned new rules, the unemployed would be obliged to accept a new job that paid more than 80 percent of their previous wage.
Their benefits would be suspended for a month if they refuse two “reasonable” job offers, or if they fail to show evidence that they are actively seeking work.
After two job refusals they would also have to accept any employment offer at a salary higher than their current benefits.
But other currently applied sanctions will be eased or done away with. Not turning up for a scheduled appointment with Pole Emploi, the state jobs agency, would henceforth result in losing benefits for two weeks, as against the current two months.
And refusing to sign up for a training course will no longer be punished at all.
The hardline CGT union said it saw the reforms as a “general hardening” of the rules and it condemned what it said was “the government’s logic of suspicion towards the unemployed.”
But the government says the reforms are necessary to rein in the €33 billion that the unemployment benefits scheme costs a year.
Employers for their part complain that they cannot fill between 200,000 and 300,000 jobs, despite an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent.
Macron has already changed labour rules to make it easier to hire and fire staff, and is planning to spend 15 billion euros on providing job training over the next five years.