PARIS The number of people out of work in France rose by 0.9 percent in November, the 19th consecutive monthly rise, to hit a nearly 15-year high, piling pressure on Socialist President Francois Hollande to encourage job creation.
Labour ministry data released on Thursday showed the number of registered job seekers in mainland France rose by 29,300 to 3.13 million, the highest level since January 1998.
The figures, set to worsen an unemployment rate that reached 10.3 percent in the third quarter, add urgency to government efforts to get unions and employers to agree changes to labour laws aimed at boosting competitiveness and creating jobs.
Public impatience over sweeping industrial layoffs and anaemic growth is weighing hard on Hollande's approval ratings seven months into his presidency.
Negotiations on ways to make hiring more flexible will now run into January, after unions and employers failed to break a deadlock by a late December deadline.
With the pressure on him rising, Hollande announced in November that he will grant 20 billion euros ($26 billion) in annual tax credits to companies from next year as a way to lower labour costs. He hopes the move could create some 300,000 jobs over five years to make up for some of the thousands being cut by firms like car maker Peugeot (PEUP.PA).
"My goal is for unemployment, which has been rising for nearly two years now, to recede," Hollande said during a visit to a wholesale food market outside Paris on Thursday, renewing a pledge to turn around the trend by the end of 2013.
Labour Minister Michel Sapin said of Thursday's data that fighting unemployment would be the top priority next year.
The INSEE national statistics agency last week predicted that Europe's No. 2 economy would grow just 0.1 percent in the first and second quarters of next year, putting the government's public deficit target in jeopardy and driving further job losses. It said unemployment would likely continue to rise until mid-2013 to a 15-year high of 10.9 percent.
The labour ministry data is the most frequently reported domestic jobs indicator for France, although it is not prepared according to International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards nor expressed as a percentage of job seekers in the work force.
(Reporting by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)