France’s new Socialist government is to raise the cost of making workers redundant in an attempt to stem rising unemployment, which hit 10 per cent of the workforce in the first quarter of 2012, according to figures released on Thursday.

Michel Sapin, labour minister, said part of an “urgent” response to joblessness was to penalise companies that seek to increase dividends and maximise profits by shifting production to lower-cost locations – dubbed “stock market redundancies”.

“The main idea is to make redundancies so costly that it’s not worth it,” he told France Info radio.

Mr Sapin, who said he planned to introduce legislation after the summer, said the level of compensation for fired workers and the cost of converting an abandoned plant to new use should be made sufficient to deter businesses from resorting to redundancies.

Such a move would be in defiance of calls from business for an easing of the country’s already weighty employment protection legislation, which was singled out last week by the European Commission as one of the structural factors inhibiting the French labour market.

But the government, which is hoping to win a parliamentary majority in National Assembly elections on June 10 and 17, is under pressure from trade unions to take action in the face of a wave of redundancies threatened or under way across a number of French industries, particularly carmakers, telecoms companies, banks and airlines.

It has established a taskforce to tackle each case – the unions say 45,000 jobs are under immediate threat – and is also considering legislation to force companies to sell rather than close plants that could be kept open under new ownership.

Mr Sapin said the government also planned to boost youth employment, as promised by President François Hollande during his election campaign, and to cut tax breaks on overtime introduced by Nicolas Sarkozy, the former centre-right president, which the new administration says deters companies from hiring additional workers.

Figures from Insee, the national statistics bureau, showed unemployment in France, including its oversees territories, rose to 10 per cent in the first quarter, up from 9.8 per cent in the final quarter of last year and the highest level since 1999.

In mainland France, the figure rose to 9.6 per cent, or 2.7m people, up 0.3 percentage points since the fourth quarter of 2011.

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