By Leigh Thomas
PARIS, Jan 25 (Reuters) - The number of people out of work in France rose by just 300 in December, marking a pause after 19 straight months of larger jumps but still sticking close to its highest level in almost 15 years.
Labour ministry data showed that the number of registered job seekers in mainland France stood at 3.133 million after the marginal increase, leaving the total at what is still the highest point since January 1998.
The level versus a year ago is up 10 percent.
The halt to the rise in unemployment is the first good news for President Francois Hollande on one of his toughest fronts since coming to office in May last year.
The Socialist leader has pledged to reverse the rise in unemployment before the end of the year even though growth in the euro zone’s second biggest economy has ground to halt.
“This stability is welcome. Nonetheless, it does not mark an inversion of the unemployment trend,” the labour ministry said in a statement.
The ministry’s 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.
The ILO unemployment rate hit 10.3 percent in the third quarter, according to the INSEE official statistics agency, which forecasts it will keep rising through at least mid-2013 to nearly 11 percent.
Hollande’s government hopes to fight unemployment in part with 100,000 state-sponsored jobs for young people. It also aims to carry out a major labour market reform allowing employers more flexibility based on an agreement this month between employers and unions.