Industrial relations in the public sector — France

  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 10 Diciembre 2008


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This report presents an overview of industrial relations in the central government and public sector in France.

1. Structure of the public sector in your country

Please provide:

The definition of the public sector commonly accepted and used in your country. What are the different sectors covered (e.g. central government, local government, health sector, education, others)?

It is difficult to define the size of the public sector in France due to the sheer number of types of public employers and personnel grades. For several years, all those involved have agreed on the different definitions of the public sector. From a legal standpoint, the public sector commonly includes two components:

  • the civil service, which includes all civil servants with a civil post (which excludes the military) in an administrative body. There are three main civil service bodies: central government (51% of personnel), local government (administrative districts, départements and regions, 30% of personnel) and the Health Service (19% of personnel). At the end of 2004, the total civil service workforce was 5.26 million (including assisted employment resulting from public employment policies), which is 1/5 of the total labour force.
  • public companies, which include all of the companies in which the State is a majority shareholder – the state-run electricity company (Electricité de France, EDF), – the state-run postal services company, La Poste, – the French National Rail Company (Société nationale des chemins de fer, SNCF)…. At the end of 2004, the total workforce in public companies was 713,000, of whom 278,700 worked for La Poste.

Two sectors, education and health, stand out due to the fact that they include both administrative bodies and private companies. Education includes public teaching and research establishments (primary schools, secondary schools, sixth-form colleges, universities) and private establishments, while the health sector includes public health-care establishments and private hospitals.

The definition of the central government sector commonly accepted and used in your country. What are the different sectors covered?

Central government includes:

  • the central administration (central ministry departments which are generally located in Paris) and their decentralized departments at local level (local departments, prefecture, education authorities.)
  • National public institutions, meaning institutions with a public service mission (teaching and research establishments, public administrative institutions such as the Job Centre (Agence nationale pour l’emploi, ANPE…).

The main central government sectors are quite standard: Education and Research (around 1.12 million civil servants including all teaching personnel), Economy and Finance (around 196,000 civil servants), Defence (400,000 civil servants), Home Office (including the national police – 162,000), Infrastructure (124,000), Justice (58,000), Agriculture (33,000), Employment (25,000), Foreign Affairs (22,000) and Culture (13,000)….

Employment in central government is increasing at a slower rate than in the other two public civil services. In 2003, the workforce of the different ministries even dropped for the first time (-0.2%).

The following data:

Comments on the tables

- The statistics do not systematically distinguish between men and women. We have therefore indicated the total workforce. From 1992 to 2002, the number of women working in central government increased from 55% to 57% (51% if including the military), while in the private sector it went up from 37% to 42%.

- Figures are not yet available. We have therefore used data for the 2002-2004 period.

- Central government including: teaching staff (860,198), the armed forces (326,156), the police (117,188) and personnel of national public institutions (287,178). This does not include health service personnel as they come under the authority of the Health Service.

In thousands

Table 1. Employment and population


Central government


Total Employees (all economy)

Total Population


2 531

4 884

24 709

61 530


2 543

4 981

24 612

61 932


2 522

5 090

24 724

62 324

In thousands

Table 2. Central government employment



of which part-time


of which part-time


2 210





2 215





2 220




Source: INSEE (National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies) and DREES (Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics Department)

N.B.: Excluding beneficiaries of assisted employment and voluntary members of the armed forces.

Please indicate whether fixed-term employment and part-time work are typical of certain organisational areas in the central government sector (for instance, top job positions rather than lower-level occupations) or group of workers (such as employees approaching retirement, new recruits, women, technicians, and the like)

Central government employs, alongside permanent civil servants, a certain number of non-permanent employees (302,000 in 2003, around 13%). However, the number of non-permanent staff has been going down both in volume and percentage since the middle of the 1980s due to permanent appointment schemes. Moreover, the fight against the lack of job security is a government objective and has been the subject of regular negotiations with the unions. There are two different categories of non-permanent staff:

  • those staff with permanent category jobs that cannot be occupied by a permanent civil servant due to the job’s specific nature or to the fact that it is not a full-time job (for example, house masters and mistresses, departmental personnel with part-time jobs, legal researchers.) They represent 50% of non-permanent staff.
  • those staff whose jobs are linked to a non-permanent need. The vast majority are on fixed-term contracts. Some of them are entitled to benefit from insecure employment reduction schemes. Between 2001 and 2005 31,500 staff were awarded permanent civil servant status.

Due to their often specific missions, National Public Institutions in particular have recourse to this form of employment (67.2% of non-permanent staff compared with 8% in the Ministries.)

In the ministries, there are not significantly more women non-permanent members of staff: in 2003, they made up 57.5% of permanent members of staff and 57.1% of non-permanent members of staff (excluding the military and state manual workers.) On the other hand, in national public institutions there are more non-permanent female members of staff (58.9% compared with 49.9% permanent female members of staff.) Non-permanent members of staff are usually recruited to carry out higher grade posts. However, their professional grading structure differs from that of permanent members of staff. Forty four percent of non-permanent members of staff are 44% of grade A staff (see 2.2), 34% are grade B staff and 22% grade C staff. The difference between grades A and B is much bigger for permanent staff members, of whom 53% are grade A and 16% grade B. In essence, many more permanent staff members are part-time than non-permanent staff (32% compared with 9.2% in 2003). However, the main difference is that permanent staff always choose to work part-time whereas non-permanent staff almost always have this imposed on them.

Regarding part-time central government personnel, the vast majority are women, as in the private sector. 14.2% of women work part-time while only 1.7% of men are part-time. Part-time employment is most widespread at the Ministry of the Economy and the Ministry of Social Affairs: almost one in three women do not work full-time. Following steady progression since 1990, part-time working slightly decreased in 2002 and dropped still further in 2003. This could be down to the effect of the 35-hour working week for non-teaching staff, with working time reduction days partly substituting part-time days. A section of part-time workers (37,000 in 2002) are on progressive retirement programmes. The number of workers on this scheme greatly increased between 2000 – 2003 but has fallen since the civil service pensions reform (32,000 in 2004.)

Please indicate the presence and quantitative relevance of non-standard employment relationships in the central government sector, and especially of temporary agency work and service contracts with individuals or other non-standard contractual relationships that are important in your country.

Apart from non-permanent members of staff and part-time working, there are no other non-standard forms of employment in central government. The main change concerns sub-contracting of some services (catering, cleaning, maintenance), which some civil service unions liken to rampant privatisation.

2. Employment regulation

Public sector vs. private sector.

Do (certain) public sector employees enjoy special status compared with private sector employees?

In France, all public sector employees benefit from a special status. This status is governed by legal or regulatory provisions while the status of employees in the private sector is governed by a contract and collective bargaining.

Do all public sector employees have the same status or are there differences between different groups of employees, as, for instance, between civil servants, clerical employees and workers?

Since the loi du 13 juillet 1983 (law on the rights and obligations of civil servants), the general regulations of the different civil services have been unified, even if there are still specific provisions for each sector. Judges and members of the armed forces are the only civil servants to be governed by specific regulations. Jobs in the civil service fall into three hierarchical grades: a management grade (A), an intermediary grade (B) and a clerical grade (C). Each grade is made up of different corps that generally correspond to the different branches and professions.

Alongside the civil servants, there are state manual workers who are public employees and also public non-permanent employees who work in the civil service.

Employees of public companies are also governed by regulations which are specific to their company (for example, the electricity / gas personnel regulations.)

If public sector employees enjoy special status(es), please specify:

The distinctive features of (each) public sector employment status, highlighting the main differences with the status of private sector employees (and, if relevant, among the various public sector statuses). In particular, indicate whether such differences involve the rights: i) of association; ii) to bargaining collectively; iii) to strike.

The general civil service regulations define the rights and obligations of civil servants and state manual workers:

  • Permanent posts occupied by permanent civil servants.
  • Recruitment by public examination and the right to career progression, which defines the terms and conditions for minimum career progression in line with length of service.

In terms of collective rights, the right of association and the right to strike have been fully recognized since 1946, except for members of the armed forces and judges. In theory, there is no room for collective bargaining. The main original feature of the regulations is that personnel representatives participate in individual career management in administrative committees and in the organization of services in consultative committees. On the one hand, there are employer-unions technical committees which are consultation bodies on service organization; on the other hand, joint career and professional mobility management is provided by administrative committees. The unions are involved in decision-making at all levels, although this does remain the exclusive responsibility of the administrative authorities.

Non-permanent staff members enjoy the same rights.

In public companies, personnel status is very variable, ranging from the status of personnel at EDF and GDF, which is very close to that of a civil servant, to that of SNCF employees, which is close to that of private sector workers. In all of these companies, we are witnessing the development of collective bargaining.

The requirements that must be fulfilled to gain (each) such special status(es): i) pass a public examination; ii) achieve a certain tenure in the position; c) in terms of nationality; d) other specific conditions.

Requirements only concern civil servant recruitment: individuals must pass a public exam and have French nationality.

Central government

Please indicate whether and how this special employment status regulation applies to central government employees.

See previous question.

Please fill in the following table:

Table 3. Status of central government employees

Civil servants

State manual workers

Public employees with a fixed-term contract

Employees in public companies with a status



% Women


% Women


% Women


% Women


2158 940


55 949


328 462


690 000



2184 245


56 640


302 227


713 000


N.B.: add further columns if required

Please indicate the elements of the employment relationship of central government employees which are regulated by:

Specific legislation:

the general civil service regulations define all of the elements of the employment relationship – both individual elements (salaries, working time, careers, professional mobility, disciplinary procedures) and collective elements (right of association, representative personnel bodies.)

Collective bargaining:

In legislative texts, no provision is made for collective bargaining in the civil service. However, since 1983, the law has recognized that “les organisations syndicales de fonctionnaires ont qualité pour conduire au niveau national avec le gouvernement des négociations préalables à la détermination des remunerations” – civil servant trade unions have authority to carry out preliminary wage bargaining at national level with the government. Annual salary negotiations have therefore taken place since that date between the Civil Service Minister and the civil service trade unions, the French Democratic Confederation of Labour, (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT), the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération générale des cadres, CGC), the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT), the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC), the General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail – Force ouvrière, CGT-FO), the Unitary Union Federation (Fédération syndicale unitaire, FSU), the National Federation of Independent Unions (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes, UNSA). During the past few years, little agreement has been reached due to the fact that the Minister has little budgetary room for manoeuvre.

In your answer, please refer specifically to elements such as recruitment procedures, pay (see also below), working time, work organisation, job security and employment protections, social security.

Please, briefly illustrate whether and how reform of employment regulation in the central government sector since the 1990s has affected:

The status of workers:

The balance between legislation and collective bargaining in regulating the various dimensions of the employment relationships.

Other relevant industrial relations dimensions, such as representation, conflict and its regulation.

Please, briefly illustrate whether and how reorganisation and restructuring in the central government sector since the 1990s, for instance through the establishment of special agencies or the separation of specific bodies and offices, has affected:

The status of significant groups of workers:

State modernization policies aim to improve relations between administrations and employees and to make the latter more efficient. To this end, new HR management methods borrowed from the private sector have spread to the public sector: particularly management planning of jobs, skills and procedures for personnel evaluation (29th April 2002 decree.) The majority of the unions are opposed to these changes but struggle to get the civil servants to protest against the reforms. In spite of the individualization of personnel management, the regulations still govern the foundations of the civil servants’ employment relationship.

The balance between legislation and collective bargaining in regulating the various dimensions of the employment relationships:

While the right to collectively bargain is very limited in central government, reality has overtaken the law as bargaining spread in the 1990s to many new areas: the 1990 Durafour agreement which reformed the civil service salary scale, 1989, 1992 and 1996 framework agreements on vocational training, the 1996 agreement which created a progressive early retirement scheme, 1996, 2000 and 2001 agreements on the reduction of insecure employment. The need for there to be a legal basis to bargaining is acknowledged by all those involved but there are differences of opinion between the unions as to the place to be accorded to this bargaining in relation to the regulations.

Other relevant industrial relations dimensions, such as representation, conflict and its regulation:

In the past few years, the main reform to the status of civil servants has concerned their retirement scheme. The 2003 law made pension contributions periods in the civil service closer to those in the private sector. This reform gave rise to a major strike by civil servants; however this strike movement did not prevent the reform from being implemented.

Pay levels and determination

Please indicate:

The presence and relevance of collective bargaining on pay in the central government sector.

There has been collective bargaining on pay in the civil service since 1983. However, the last pay agreement dates back to 1999. Since then, civil service salaries have been increased by unilateral government decisions.

The number and scope of bargaining units on pay within the central government sector.

There is no decentralisation of collective bargaining on pay in central government. It takes place at a central level.

Do minimum wage levels vary across the different bargaining units within the central government sector? Are there common minimum wage levels in the whole public sector?


Is there a single job classification system for the whole central government sector?

Yes, see previous comment.

Wage levels and wage increases in the central government and private sectors since 2000 (table 4). If there are great variations across bargaining units within the central government sector, please briefly illustrate such variations.

Average annual net salary (including bonuses.)

Table 4. Central government and private sector: wage levels and increases since 2000 (average)

Total civil service

Private sector


Level EUR

Annual increase %

Level EUR

Annual increase %


23 375



23 838




24 486




24 866


21 733



25 290


22 193


The presence and relevance of variable performance-related pay in the central government sector. Please indicate whether variable pay is particularly relevant in certain bargaining units or organisational areas (for instance, top job positions, officers, or other occupations).

Civil service pay has two components:

  • An indexed salary. Each grade is linked to an index level – a certain number of points. Negotiated salary increases affect the value of an index point.
  • And individual bonuses which are determined per grade. These bonuses on average represent 17% of civil servants’ salaries but the amount varies greatly according to the ministry in question (the Ministries of the Economy and Infrastructure award big bonuses to their employees) and in line with grade (for some upper management grades, the bonus level can reach 40% of the salary.)

Are there any form of “benchmarking” of wage dynamics in the central government sector with other public sectors or with the private sector? If yes, are industrial relations actors involved in such benchmarking activity?


4. Union Presence and density

Please provide information on:

Trade unions which are present in the various bargaining units of the central government sector, their number, affiliation, representational domain, membership, and the sectoral union density (data by gender). Please fill in the following table:

In France, it is not easy to find out the number of union members, either in the private or in the public sector. According to Ministry of Employment estimates, 8% of workers belonged to unions in 2003 – 1,845,000 people. The three civil services bring together half of the member employees – 890,000, which means that 15.1% of civil servants are union members. In some public sector professions, such as teaching staff, researchers and hospital doctors, more than 25% are union members. Engineers and managers in the civil service have the highest rate of union membership (25%.)

As in the private sector, unionism in the civil service is characterized by the existence of many different organizations. However, the situation differs from that of the private sector in that quantitative criteria define the conditions that unions must fulfil in order to be recognized as representative and therefore be able to stand at workplace elections and to participate in national collective bargaining (article 9a of title I of the general regulations):

  • either have at least one seat in each of the central government, local government and health service boards.
  • or receive at least 10% of votes cast during elections to joint committees in the three civil services and at least 2% of votes cast during these same elections in each civil service.

On this basis, seven organizations are declared to be representative in central government. the CFDT, the CFTC, the CGC, the CGT, the CGT-FO, the FSU (Unitary Union Federation – main union in the National Education System), l'UNSA (the National Federation of Independent Unions, which includes the former FEN (Federation of National Education) and unions which were previously independent in the public sector).

The most reliable indicator of union presence is therefore their results in workplace elections. For that reason we are providing the results of the last administrative committee elections. The turnout was 71% - a drop of two points compared with the previous period.

Table 5. Trade unions: results of central administrative committee elections between 1/1/2003 and 31/12/2005

Total central government

Ministry of the Economy

Ministry of Infrastructure

Ministry for Education














































Please provide information on the diffusion within the central government sector of craft unions, professional unions, or unions which are not affiliated to peak associations.

In the civil service, traditionally there are independent unions which are not affiliated to a confederation. Some have managed to be recognized as representative bodies within an administration due to their following. At the Ministry of the Economy, the FDSU (the Federation of Independent Unitary Finance Unions) is the main union with 28.9% of votes at the administrative committee elections. The FDSU joined together with the SUD (independent Solidarity, Unity, Democracy Unions which were created at the beginning of the 1990s following a series of splits in the CFDT, for example at La Poste and in the Health Service) in order to create a confederation: the Union Syndicale Solidaire – the Solidarity Union Confederation.

Are there any formal procedures or rules which aim to assess the representativeness of the various unions? If yes, please, briefly illustrate the content of such procedures or rules. Do these procedures or rules affect the access of the various unions to trade union prerogatives or to the bargaining table? If yes, please specify such effects and any possible limitations: see 4.1

5. Employer representation

Who does represent the central government at the bargaining table? Are there specific independent bodies, such as agencies, or negotiations are carried out under the responsibility of political actors, such as ministers?

The government is represented at the bargaining table by the Civil Service Minister. No independent bodies monitor the bargaining.

If negotiations are carried out by specific independent bodies, please indicate how they are organised. In particular, specify whether there are guidelines or other directives set by political actors and how the tasks of the independent bodies are carried out. For instance, negotiations have to follow specific stages?

If negotiations are carried under the direct responsibility of political actors, please indicate how they are organised. For instance, do negotiations take place under the responsibility of a single ministry, for instance the Finance Ministry, or are they carried out by a delegation or in a different way?

The Civil Service Minister carries out the bargaining. S/he receives technical support from the DGAFP (General Directorate for Administration and Civil Service), which reports to the Prime Minister.

Do collective agreements in the central government sector have to pass an ex-post “validation” procedure, for instance to certify their compliance with budget constraints? If present, please briefly illustrate such procedure and the consequences of failure to pass it.

All texts relating to the civil service are signed by Minister of Finance before being published. The minister monitors bargaining in the sense that s/he sets the budgetary margins within which the Civil Service Minister works.

6. Collective bargaining and conflict in central government

Please provide information on:

The structure of collective bargaining and, in particular, the number and scope of bargaining units, both at central (national) and decentralised (workplace and territorial) levels.

Collective bargaining takes place at national level for all ministries. However, each ministry does have a personnel operations division which consults personnel representatives.

The duration of agreements and the presence and content of peace obligations.

In terms of pay, agreements are made for one year. In other spheres, indefinite agreements are made.

The main issues of collective bargaining by referring to the latest renewals.

See previous comment.

Levels and recent trends in conflict.

Conflicts in central government have increased since the start of 2000 compared with the level during the 1990s. In 2005, 1,300,000 working days were lost due to strike action. 1,600,000 days were lost in 2000. Meanwhile 2003, with the pensions conflict, represented a conflict peak which had not been reached for over twenty years. Inter-ministerial conflicts revolved around salaries, defending employment and the public services.

The presence and main features of forms of regulation of labour conflict and collective dispute resolution procedures. Please indicate whether such rules are specific to the central government sector, or apply to the whole public sector, or are general and cover both public and private sectors.

There are no procedures for resolving conflicts in the public sector.

7. Commentary by the NC


Specify the main issues on the agenda of industrial relations in the central government sector in your country.

Since mid-2005, negotiations have been underway with the aim of trying to modify the grading system in the civil service (FR0603029I). The objective is to replace the grades and branches with major skill groups which would enable professional mobility between ministries. At the present time only the CFDT supports the Civil Service Minister’s plan in this area.

Cover any further issues which are relevant in your country but have not been covered by previous questions.

Provide your own comments on industrial relations in the central government sector in your country.

State modernization policies aim to import private sector workforce management methods into the public sector. The traditional public sector forms of regulation have been destabilized but for the moment have not been fundamentally challenged. The unions are hesitating between two strategies: either systematically opposing reforms or adapting, which would enable them to preserve the power bases that they have built up over a long period of time in the civil service.

Catherine Vincent, Institute for Economic and Social Research (IRES)

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