The French government has announced a fall in the number of unemployed people in the country – the first decline since October last year.
The jobless total was down by 11,100 in August, a 0.3 percent fall from the previous month.
It is a rare piece of good news for President François Hollande.
He has seen his popularity fall to record lows for a modern French leader as he failed to live up to promises to reduce unemployment.
It has been stuck above 10 percent of the workforce for months, with over 3.4 million job seekers registered in August.
Employers group urges ‘shock therapy’
The same day the figures were released, France’s main employer group, Medef, said the government should scrap its 35-hour work week, raise the legal retirement age and lower the minimum wage to bring down chronically high unemployment and stimulate growth.
Medef said that if implemented, its proposals would help Europe’s second-largest economy create one million jobs over the next five years.
Medef chief Pierre Gattaz wants an end to the 35-hour work week introduced by a Socialist government in 2000, allow firms to go around the 1,445-euro monthly minimum wage, scrap two of 11 bank holidays and authorise exploration for shale gas, currently banned on environmental grounds.
He also called for a cap on taxes on companies, further loosening of employment rules, and overhauling France’ generous jobless benefit system so that more job-seekers accept employment.
Unions reacted with outrage earlier this month when some of the proposals were leaked in local media, prompting Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls to urge all parties to steer clear of “provocations”.
But Gattaz said he was ready to accept controversy to spark a proper discussion about what is holding back the French economy.
The government is unlikely to implement most of Gattaz’s ideas as Valls told parliament last week that neither the 35-hour work week nor the minimum wage would be changed.