By Emmanuel Jarry
PARIS (Reuters) - French unions and employers start talks on Friday over how to cut social charges weighing on companies, though both sides doubted the cuts could be linked to hiring targets as President Francois Hollande first promised.
The government hopes the parties will agree by early April on the terms of Hollande's so-called "responsibility pact", which aims to restore French corporate margins - the lowest in the euro zone - by cutting what they pay in social charges by some 30 billion euros (24.4 billion pounds).
Jobless data for January showed a new rise, after the Socialist-led government failed to keep a promise to get unemployment coming down by the end of 2013.
Unveiling the plan last month as part of a shift to more business-friendly policies, Hollande said business would in exchange have to commit to "clear, precise, measurable and verifiable" hiring targets.
But employers and even some union leaders agree such goals would be unworkable.
"From a macroeconomic point of view it's absurd to think that we can set a numerical (hiring) target," Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, France's largest union by membership, told Les Echos business daily.
Pierre Gattaz, the head of France's main employers group Medef, has previously cited a target of creating one million extra jobs. But since then he has said he would reject any legally-binding hiring targets.
Talks are due to conclude shortly after local elections in late March with a draft law based on the deal to be sent to parliament around September, delaying any potential boost to job creation until the final quarter of 2014.
"The pact will take effect over time, but nobody is able to say that it will start to create jobs in six or eight months," said Joseph Thouvenel, vice president of the CFTC union.
Thouvenel said unions were likely to see hiring goals per professional sector, not on a national level, and that they may be defined in qualitative terms rather than numerically.
"Of course you can't have set the same objectives for the automotive sector, which is in decline, and the aeronautic sector, which is expanding," he added.
Hollande is relying on lower labour costs to kick-start hiring and economic growth quickly after he failed last year to start bringing down unemployment, currently above 11 percent.
Despite billions of euros spent on subsidised jobs, a reform loosening rules on hiring and firing and a major tax break for companies, joblessness hit a record in January with the number of people out of work up by 8,900.
Sapin said this week the jobless total should start to fall this year. But the European Commission forecast that France's jobless rate to stay at 11 percent in 2014. ($1 = 0.7317 euros)
(Additional reporting and writing by Nicholas Vinocur; editing by Mark John)