Pay agreement signed in civil service

On 10 February 1998, the French Government and five trade unions signed a pay agreement for the civil service providing for annual increases of 1.3% for the period 1998-9. In the opinion of those who signed the agreement, it assures the purchasing power of civil servants' pay power, a fact disputed by the two unions that refused to sign. This is the civil service's first pay agreement since 1993 and follows a pay freeze in 1996 and a non-negotiated 1% rise in 1997.

The last collective agreement on pay in the French civil service was signed on 9 November 1993. Five trade unions signed the deal - the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail, CFDT ), the Federated Education Union (Fédération de l'Education Nationale- FEN), the Independent General Confederation of Civil Servants (Fédération Générale Autonome des Fonctionnaires, FGAF), the French Christian Workers' Confederation (Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens, CFTC) and the General Confederation of Managerial Staff-French Confederation of Managerial Staff (Confédération Française de l'Encadrement- Confédération Générale des Cadres, CFE-CGC). On the basis of the results of workplace-level elections, these five unions together represented the majority of civil servants.

However, in 1992 FEN splintered and a new union, the Confederation of United Trade Unions (Fédération Syndicale Unitaire, FSU), was created by those excluded from FEN, winning a majority in subsequent workplace-level elections in the education sector in December 1996. FEN, together with the FGAF and five other unions, cooperated to form the National Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (Union Nationale des Syndicats Autonomes, UNSA) in 1993.

Negotiations

On 14 January 1998 (FR9801192N), the Civil Service Minister, Emile Zucarelli, opened pay negotiations with seven unions: CFDT, CFE-CGC, CFTC, FSU, UNSA, the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération Générale du Travail, CGT) and the General Confederation of Labour Force Ouvrière(Force Ouvrière, CGT-FO). Between them, based on the results of sector-wide workplace elections, these unions were considered to represent majority opinion in the civil service.

The negotiations took place against a background of economic and political difficulties. The civil service sector employs 5.3 million civil servants and related workers, or almost one quarter of the French workforce. Employment is divided among the following three sectors: 3 million in national civil service including the French Post Office (La Poste) and France Télécom; 1.3 million in local government throughout France; and 0.8 million in the hospital sector. The civil service accounts for 40% of total government expenditure. A combination of budget restrictions - introduced to enable France to qualify for EU Economic and Monetary Union - and increased expenditure on benefits for long-term unemployed people gave the Civil Service Minister very little room for manoeuvre.

The Minister proposed that the budget allocated under the conditions of the Finance Act be split into a 1.2% across-the-board wage raise and an increase of one index point in compensation for the 1996 pay freeze. Further index-linked raises would be given to those at the lower end of the salary scale. These proposals were supported by a document containing figures demonstrating that from 1982 to 1995 the purchasing power of civil servants' pay had remained very competitive compared with that of their private sector counterparts. This could be attributed to one structural factor, namely the higher proportion - especially in the education sector - of middle and senior ranking managerial and professional employees in the civil service. The average net purchasing power of private sector workers' pay fell by 1.3% in 1996 due to increases in social security contributions levied on pay. Even taking into consideration their pay freeze, the corresponding figures for civil servants show a drop of only 0.1%.

The unions judged the minister's proposals to be insufficient. They described government forecasts of 1.2% inflation in 1999 as unrealistic and thus demanded the inclusion of a clause linking pay to inflation in addition to an annual pay increase of 1.35%.

A third round of negotiations finally led to an agreement between the government and CFDT, CFE-CGC, CFTC, CGT-FO and UNSA on the night of 28-29 January 1998. The government had been keen to reach agreement with at least five unions and therefore entice CGT-FO - which had refused to sign the preceding agreements in 1991 and 1993 - back into the collective bargaining process.

Terms of the agreement

The agreement is the civil service's first pay deal since 1993, following a pay freeze in 1996 and a non-negotiated 1% rise in 1997 (FR9702114N), and restarts the interrupted process of civil service bargaining. The settlement provides for a general four-stage 2.6% increase in pay between now and December 1999. Furthermore, workers at the lower end of the pay scale will be promoted a few grades up that scale. The agreement also refers to the possible expansion of the 35-hour working week - which is to be introduced by law in the private sector (FR9710169F) - to include the civil service. However, before any decision can be made on this, a high-ranking civil servant will be called in to explore the possibilities and draw up a complete survey of present practices relating to working hours.

After consulting with their leaderships, the five unions finally signed the agreement on 10 February 1998 and all demonstrated a very upbeat attitude, saying that it would guarantee civil servants' purchasing power. CFDT was particularly pleased with the government's commitment to job creation, while the agreement enabled CGT-FO to "translate its commitment to collective bargaining into concrete results". CFE-CGC expressed the wish that this agreement should lead to "discussions on changes taking place in qualifications and the position of managerial and professional staff". CGT and FSU, which did not sign the agreement, qualified the government's concessions, especially those on low pay, as insufficient. They criticised what they saw as the government's lack of concrete commitment to job creation and also the fact that no date has been set for the implementation of the 35-hour week in the civil service. The government has already hinted that the introduction of the 35-hour week in this sector will take longer than in the private sector.

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