3,300 supply teachers reinstated in French secondary schools

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Following negotiations with the Education Minister, 3,300 unemployed supply teachers won the right in late January 1997 to be temporarily reinstated in their jobs.

The group involved in the dispute are maîtres-auxiliaires, teaching staff without professional status, who fill the role of supply teachers. Access to permanent teaching posts in the state sector is achieved mainly through passing one of two competitive exams: the Agrégationor the CAPES (Certificat d'Aptitude au Professorat dans l'Enseignement Secondaire). The Agrégation gives more privileges than the CAPES, such as a higher salary and shorter hours. Since 1962, the administrators (Recteurs) of France's school regions (Académies) have been allowed to appoint maîtres-auxiliaires to reduce the deficit of available professionally-qualified teaching staff, caused by an increase in pupil numbers and the insufficient number of new permanent teaching posts. There are today approximately 33,000 maîtres-auxiliaires, who are not entitled to civil servant status and have no job security. Assigned to short-term or year-long cover, in posts left unfilled by permanent teachers, they might spend months at a time unemployed.

At the start of this year, the Ministry of Education's internal monitoring unit (Inspection Générale) recorded 5,229 unemployed maîtres-auxiliaires. A national coordinating committee for these workers, the Non-Permanent Staff Committee (Comité des Non-Titulaires, CDNT) protested against the precariousness of the maîtres-auxiliaires' situation, and many of its members went on hunger strike. A trade union joint committee comprising teaching unions, and for the first time, a non-union association, Act against Unemployment (Agir contre le Chômage!, or AC!), supported this action.

During January 1997, the CDNT and the joint union committee took part in a series of meetings in which negotiations were held with the Education Minister, François Bayrou. On 29 January, the Minister announced that 3,300 maîtres-auxiliaireswould be found jobs until the end of the school year. Two measures would accompany their reinstatement :

  1. the granting of pre-retirement leave, on a voluntary basis, to qualified staff nearing the end of their careers; and
  2. the conversion into posts of 2.5 % of all overtime financed out of the Ministry's budget.

However, the maîtres-auxiliaires' steering committee regretted the lack of commitment on the Minister's part with regard to the granting of professional status, which it would like applied to all maîtres-auxiliaires, without them having to pass competitive exams. On this issue, the unions in the joint committee are split. While the SGEN-CFDT (Syndicat général de l'Education Nationale - Confédération Nationale Démocratique des Travailleurs) supports the coordinating committee's claim, the SNES-FSU (Syndicat National des Enseignants du Secondaire - Fédération Syndicale Unitaire), the largest of the teaching unions, is suggesting a competitive exam which takes professional experience into account. Some unions fear the loss of prestige of the traditional forms of access to the teaching profession, and are concerned by the reduction in the number of jobs offered through the traditional competitive exam system. François Bayrou puts forward the same argument, above all for budgetary reasons, with the Ministry of Finance seeking to limit the overall size of the civil service.

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