French Cabinet approves civil service working hours reforms

By on 31/03/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Emmanuel Macron aims to get more out of the workforce, creating the potential for staff cuts. Pic by Official Leweb Photos

French president Emmanuel Macron has set out plans to reform civil service working hours and annual leave, creating the potential for substantial staff cuts.

The draft legislation was approved by cabinet on Wednesday, and forms part of the government’s modernisation programme which aims to reduce public spending by €60bn (US$67bn) by 2022.

If passed by parliament, the new law will require civil servants to work a 35-hour week and clamp down on government employees taking more than the standard five weeks annual leave. It will also make it easier for local and national government to hire people on short-term contracts, and for employees to move between the public and private sector. 

Big numbers

The French civil service currently employs 5.5m people, when public service workers and adminstrators at the regional, departmental and local levels are considered. According to the Times, a confidential study of 1.1m civil servants by the economy ministry’s general inspection of finance found that one third are working fewer than 35 hours per week. 

Public sector leave entitlement also varies widely across the country as well as between sectors, with some staff currently entitled to much more than five weeks per year. For example, officials at the culture ministry get an extra seven days of paid leave, while in some areas of France civil servants get extra days off for attending events, moving house or preparing for bank holidays, the Times reported.

The government report, which was leaked to French newspaper Le Figaro earlier this week, said ensuring all staff work a standard French working week of 35 hours will immediately reduce the need for 30,000 posts without any direct impact on services. In all, the reform plans envisage the loss of about 120,000 jobs.

Unions aren’t happy

Many public sector workers took to the streets in protest on Wednesday as the legislation was being approved. Unions reacted strongly to the proposals, and there are further strikes and protests planned across the country for 9 May. The National Group of Autonomous Unions said the bill was an “unprecedented offensive” that would import private sector methods into the civil service, the Times reported.

Although controversial, the measures should not come as a huge shock as Macron promised a reduction of 120,000 posts during his 2017 election campaign. Negotiations have been ongoing during the past year as the government worked on putting the plan into action. Olivier Dussopt, the junior minister responsible for the civil service, said the law will go before parliament by the summer, with the goal of rolling it out at the beginning of 2020, the Financial Times reported.

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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