Unemployment falls again – so what next for jobs and the French economy?

As unemployment in France continues to fall and country's labour minister says is is on track to hit its targets we look at the direction of the French economy.

Unemployment falls again - so what next for jobs and the French economy?
Photo: AFP

What's happening with unemployment in France?

It's falling fairly steadily. Last year saw a steady year-long fall to reach its lowest level in a decade and figures released on Thursday for the final quarter of 2019 continued that trend.

READ ALSO Why 2020 is set to be a good year for job-hunters in France

Graphic: INSEE

Overall unemployment in France now stands at 8.1 percent – down from 8.7 percent in the first quarter of the year and France's lowest rate since 2009.

The figures includes France's overseas départements which historically have very high levels of unemployment – in mainland France the jobless rate is now 7.9 percent.

French president Emmanuel Macron has set a target to reach 7 percent by the end of 2022, which now looks possible. Or “downright attainable” in the more bullish words of the country's employment minister Muriel Pénicaud.

So everything is good?

Some things are good, for sure.

The French economy is still growing, albeit more slowly, and the fall in jobless figures seems to be an ongoing trend repeated over several quarters.

More new businesses are being created, 210,000 new jobs were created in 2019 and France is still doing well on the index of attractiveness to foreign investors.

French business leaders say their order books are full and they are looking to recruit in 2020, with several big firms going ahead with major expansions.

The digital and technology sectors are expected to recruit heavily in 2020, as well as the engineering sector, service roles and leisure and tourism.

In fact many business leaders say their major problem is finding recruits with the skills that they need – which is certainly good news for anyone job-hunting in 2020.

Station F in Paris is a workspace for startups. Photo: AFP

No problems, then?

Not quite. France's unemployment figures may be going in the right direction, but the country still has one of the highest jobless rates in the EU with 2.42 million people out work.

France's 8.1 percent rate for the final quarter of 2019 contrasts with Germany at 3.2 percent, the UK at 4 percent and the EU average at 6.4 percent.

Only Spain (14.1 percent) and Italy (10.6 percent) have higher unemployment rates than France.

France has historically been one of the worst performers in Europe in employment and one of Macron's major objectives is to halt this trend and make the country more 'business friendly' – to which ends he has introduced a series of reforms of the country's famously tight labour laws.

The other problem is that the job creation is not being felt evenly. 

Youth unemployment is still very high at 20 percent and has even grown slightly and much of the job creation is centered on France's big cities – particularly Paris – leaving the 'left behind' areas of small town and rural France still struggling.

So what's the government doing about it?

Well apart from the reforms to the labour laws mentioned above, the unemployment benefits system in France has also undergone some structural changes (leading some to suggest that the fall in unemployment is in part due to different methods of counting).

The new system is slightly tougher to access – for example you have to have been working for six months before you can claim benefits – and has more of an emphasis on training and job hunting.

READ ALSO The new rules for unemployment benefits in France

There's also a benefit on offer for people setting up their own businesses – part of Macron's efforts to rebrand France as 'the startup nation'.

Not everyone appreciates the changes and seasonal workers in French ski resorts are staging strike action on Saturday over cuts in the benefits that they can access.

But it does seem that, despite 'yellow vest' protests and mass strike action over the past year, France's economy is at least moving in the right direction.



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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.