Roché report examines civil servants' working time

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The "Roché report on French civil servants' working time", published in February 1999, has revealed considerable diversity in their working conditions, sometimes approaching inequality, which is deemed by the reports' authors as prejudicial to both the efficiency of the public service and the quality of working relationships between staff. The report advocates a return to a single set of regulations, which would however allow greater flexibility and diversity in working time, as part of a general and concerted modernisation of public service organisations.

On 18 February 1998, the Minister for the Civil Service, Emile Zuccarelli, entrusted Jacques Roché with the task of carrying out "an exhaustive survey of the current regulations and practices relating to working time and overtime" in the three sections of the civil service - state personnel, hospital staff and local authorities (FR9801192N). This mission was related to both national and European factors: the implementation of the 35-hour week - the civil service is currently excluded from the provisions of France's 1998 legislation on this issue (FR9806113F); and the transposition of the EU Directives on certain aspects of the organisation of working time (93/104/EC), and on part-time work (97/81/EC) (which are largely already in effect de facto, although the legislation has not yet been modified).

The Report of the interministerial commission on working time in the three sections of the civil service- the "Roché report" - was published on 10 February 1999, after 12 months of research. In the press conference called to present the report, on 18 February, the Minister stressed that "this kind of undertaking has not been attempted for 50 years." He stated that the report does not commit the government to any action, that it will quickly be subject to consultation with the social partners, and that the dialogue which will be entered into over the diagnosis contained in the report will aim to result in "decision making".

Major differences found

The Roché report summarises the current working time situation in the civil service in five points.

1."The current regulatory environment has proven to be inappropriate". This situation stems from the "sedimentation" of legislation and practices with no thought given to the whole, and manifests itself in the "considerable" differences in the duration of working time between various departments, and sometimes within departments. The table below provides more details.

Weekly working time in the civil service
Official hours laid down Lowest no. of hours recorded Highest no. of hours recorded
State civil service (ministry personnel) . . .
Overall (Depts of Education and Justice excluded) 36 hrs-38 hrs 35 hrs 37 hrs
Economy, Finance and Industry ? 34 hrs 26 mins 38 hrs 40 mins
Interior, police staff ? 32 hrs 40 mins 37 hrs 42 mins
Interior, other staff ? 34 hrs 30 mins 38 hrs 29 mins
Defence 39 hrs 35 hrs 38 hrs 40 mins
Road maintenance and public works* ? 32 hrs 40 hrs
National Development and Environment 38 hrs-38 hrs 30 mins 37 hrs 53 mins 38 hrs 29 mins
Justice** 30 hrs-39 hrs ? ?
Culture 26 hrs 40 mins- 41 hrs 40 min*** 29 hrs 05 mins 39 hrs 07 mins
Agriculture**** 39 hrs (base) 37 hrs 38 hrs 50 mins
Employment and Solidarity, labour section ? 36 hrs 40 mins 38 hrs 50 mins
Employment and Solidarity, social affairs and health section ? 35 hrs 50 mins 38 hrs 24 mins
Youth and Sport ? 34 hrs 30 mins 36 hrs 22 mins
Ex-service Staff 37 hrs 30 mins-39 hrs 30 mins 33 hrs 45 mins 37 hrs 58 mins
Hospital staff ? 35 hrs 30 mins 38 hrs 29 mins
Local authority staff (communes only) ? 31 hours 17 mins 37 hours 53 mins

? = no figure given in report.

* Overtime not included. ** Administrative staff only. *** Staff in decentralised departments and public establishments. ****"Mainstream"administrative staff.

Source: Roché report.

2."The number of hours worked on a weekly basis is no more than a theoretical reference point, as so many ways of varying their hours are available to staff". The annualisation of working hours is thus seen as necessary.

3."With no single guideline or uniform means of measurement, the differences in hours worked recorded are meaningless. Inequality in the way staff are treated has increased with no objective justification, either present or in the past". This represents a large obstacle to the reorganisation and redeployment of staff in the three branches of the civil service.

4."The flexibility introduced in the organisation of working time has not been sufficiently focused on the needs of service users, and has too often been linked to the conclusion of national or local agreements in the wake of disputes". The organisation of working time takes little account of the times when the public is likely to use a service, or of the necessities of the particular service.

5. New information technology is transforming the organisation of activities and tasks, while new instruments for arranging working time have transformed the organisation of working time. An "overall rethink of work organisation" within the three sections of the civil service is thus required.

Report proposes principles to be applied

The Roché report proposes a "long-term" process, supported by wide-ranging, decentralised consultation, "in order to ensure that the missions of the public services can be carried out more efficiently, to respond to user needs and to meet employees' aspirations." It outlines three main principles.

The prerequisites

The reports lays down four "prerequisites", seen as providing the means for carrying out the reform process, while at the same time ensuring the transparency of the process:

  • the modernisation of regulations must make practices comply with the law, while eliminating obvious inequalities. However, it should not harm the departments' widely differing service requirements. It is therefore proposed to introduce uniformity into the measurement of working time by annualising it and launching a service-by-service process of consideration of the gaps between the regulatory length of working time (statutory, or arising from collective agreement) and the actual time worked;
  • the instruments for the reorganisation of working time should be more widely used. These include making flexible and variable working time schedules available to all staff within the framework of the annualisation of working hours, establishing "time savings accounts", boosting part-time work by more flexible rules linked to these time savings accounts, and extending the use of mobile multiskilled teams;
  • the real usefulness of the missions confided to each department, and the necessary planning of workloads and requirements deriving from these missions, must be given full consideration. The "diverse and multidimensional" expectations of both public service users and staff must be met; and
  • a wide-ranging consultation with employees and their representatives, decentralised to the various levels of the organisational structure, should enable a single overall framework to be adapted flexibly to the specific needs of the various missions of the public service. To this end, "the creation of an interministerial steering committee" is proposed, which would work together with ministerial and local committees. The aim would be to set up an "observatory of the reorganisation and reduction of working time", as a basis for an indispensable rethink of this issue.

Complementarity

The above steps should foster the development of "complementarity" both between and within civil service departments, in terms of temporary exchanges of staff. Such a process must be undertaken on a voluntary basis.

Managerial and professional staff

The working time of professional and managerial staff, "a widely neglected, if not taboo topic, in the civil service as well as the private sector", is the subject of specific recommendations. If the 35-hour week must be applied to these staff as well as other categories of employee, the special nature of their responsibilities demands that the conditions must be specified. Moreover, this category of staff will be responsible for the process of reorganising and reducing the system of working time for the other employees. While acknowledging that "the fulfilment of certain duties and responsibilities is not strictly covered by the measurement of working time", the report states that "the causes of extra working hours by professional and managerial staff" must be dealt with.

The response of the social partners

The central employers' organisation, MEDEF, observed that the report showed "the incompetence, deficiencies and laxity of the state as an employer". The main trade union confederations all expressed concern about the report, although the CFDT also emphasised that it was worthwhile looking into working time in the civil service. The arguments of the unions are varied. Calculating the length of weekly working time while neglecting the content of the work done is labelled ridiculous. The CGT-FO identified in the document a willingness to base the management of the civil service on the criteria of competitiveness, and regrets that "competitiveness and efficiency" may be confused. The CGT condemns what it calls a tissue of platitudes and inadequate or dishonest assertions, which points to a possible risk of questioning the acquired rights and privileges of the civil service's status. The CFDT deplored the report's silence on "the indispensable issue of job creation". The independent education union federation, FSU, wants the "reduction of working time for all civil servants, with the necessary jobs created".

Commentary

According to the Roché report, the reorganisation and reduction of working time will provide an excellent opportunity "for debating new forms of work organisation, re-establishing equality between civil servants and resurrecting the social dialogue". However, by pointing out, on one hand, the gap between legislation and the reality of current practices - whether this derives from the exigencies of the work or from local compromises with staff - and on the other hand, the necessity for modernisation related to the extreme diversity of the missions entrusted to the civil service, the report makes no break with a "formalist" framework. The rules must be the same for everyone, and the civil service is a single unit, although it has a variety of missions. The task is considerable: combining unity with diversity, and formalism of the rules with flexibility and adaptability for the organisations. The initial reactions from the social partners testify to the difficulties involved in social dialogue undertaken on this basis. The question arises, first and foremost, as to whether the practical proposals put forward by the commission are adequate for such lofty ambitions. (François Michon, CNRS-IRES)

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