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France plans to restrict unemployment benefits in new reform push, PM says

FILE PHOTO: France's Prime Minister Gabriel Attal attends a "national tribute" ceremony to late French politician and admiral, Philippe de Gaulle in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) - France is planning to toughen unemployment rules by restricting the period when jobless citizens receive welfare payments, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday.

Outlining the government's plans to further reform the job market, Attal told TF1 television: "One of the options is to reduce the duration of payments. I think it should not go below 12 months."

An unemployed worker aged 53 or less currently receives up to 18 months of benefits plus six months if jobs are scarce. The duration extends to 22-1/2 months plus 7-1/2 months for workers aged 53-54, and 27 months plus nine months for those over the age of 55.

President Emmanuel Macron's government says previous efforts to rein in unemployment benefits did not go far enough and that a new push is necessary to get more people back in jobs and reduce an excessive state budget deficit.

Other than shortening the duration of welfare payments, Attal also said the government was considering toughening the requirements to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

"Today, you have to have worked six months out of the last two years, " he said. "We can imagine saying you either have to have worked more or to say the six months refer to a shorter period, not 24 months but, for instance, 18 months."

"I want us to detail this reform by the summer so that it can enter into law by this autumn", he said.

Widening a levy on windfall profits made by energy companies during periods of high market prices could be an option for increasing France's tax income and addressing France's deficit, Attal added.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Editing by Timothy Heritage)