First health at work agreement signed in civil service

An agreement on health at work for staff in the state civil service, local authorities and hospitals was signed on 20 November 2009. The agreement covers 5.2 million workers and is the culmination of bargaining that commenced in July 2008. The accord aims to bring health at work coverage for all three branches of the civil service into line with that provided in the private sector.

Based on action already taken in the private sector, the government commenced bargaining on working conditions in the civil service in July 2008. Market and managerial constraints had already been transposed from the private sector to the civil service; however, extra resources had not been allocated to the actors and institutions concerned with health at work in the public sector. The bargaining culminated in the signing of the country’s first health at work agreement in the civil service.

Provisions of agreement

Among its provisions, the new agreement stipulates that, for every local authority with more than 50 members of staff, a Health, Safety and Working Conditions Committee (Comité d’hygiène, de sécurité et des conditions de travail, CHSCT) should be established. This threshold is similar to the one existing in the private sector. Similarly, the agreement proposes reversing the burden of proof – which, in the case of an accident, is still the responsibility of staff in the civil service, whereas it is the employer’s responsibility in the private sector.

The agreement also provides for the following measures:

  • the creation of a post devoted to monitoring health and safety at work (FR0805029I);
  • legislative changes for the establishment of CHSCTs and changes in the rules on the development of occupational health services and on doctors involved in preventive medicine;
  • improved functioning of the medical bodies;
  • amendments to the system of attributing responsibility for occupational accidents and diseases;
  • more forward-looking management of staff redeployment.

The agreement also proposes that the number of medical check-ups that each member of staff is entitled to be assessed. Moreover, methods for objectifying and preventing psychosocial risks at the workplace are due to be developed.

Points of contention

Three main stumbling blocks had to be removed before the agreement could be signed:

  • the first one concerned the threshold for creating CHSCTs in local authorities, which was in the end reduced from 200 to 50 staff members;
  • the second point of contention concerned measures regarding increased monitoring of civil servants’ sick leave, which was postponed for examination by a future working group;
  • the final point was related to the fact that the law does not refer to an agreement that was signed in June 2008 on social dialogue in the civil service – that is, the so-called ‘Bercy agreements’.

Trade union involvement

The agreement on health at work was signed in November 2009 initially by five trade union organisations, namely: the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT), the General Confederation of Labour – Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail – Force ouvrière, CGT-FO), the National Federation of Independent Unions (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes, UNSA), the French Christian Workers’ Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC) and the French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff – General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l’encadrement – confédération générale des cadres, CFE-CGC). In December 2009, these trade unions were joined by two other unions: the Federation of Independent Unitary Unions (Fédération des syndicats unitaires, FSU), which questioned the validity of signing an agreement at a time of a General Revision of Public Policies (Révision générale des politiques publiques, RGPP) (FR0910029I, FR0902029I), and the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT).

Thus, seven out of a total eight representative trade union organisations in the civil service (FR0802019Q, FR0601106F) signed the agreement. Together, these seven unions obtained 85.4% of votes at the last workplace elections. The independent union Solidarity, Unity, Democracy (Solidaire, Unitaire, Démocratique, SUD) was the only trade union not to sign the agreement. SUD’s refusal was attributed to the fact that it had demanded that the other two branches of the civil service be brought into line with the CHSCTs in the hospital branch. It also considered that the necessary legal, human and trade union resources were not guaranteed in the accord.

Commentary

The agreement was also supported on the employers’ side by the Hospital Federation of France (Fédération hospitalière de France, FHF), along with the Association of the Regions (Association des regions de France, ARF), the Assembly of the Departments (Assemblée des départements) and the Association of the Mayors of France (Association des maires de France, AMF). Despite the trade unions’ support for the agreement, it should be highlighted that the signatory unions consider the agreement as a first step only, especially concerning the issue of compensation and preventive medicine – although they welcome the greater possibilities for highlighting the responsibility of public employers. In the context of the general cutbacks in the number of civil servants, the trade unions seek to ensure that the necessary decrees are published rapidly and also that they will remain vigilant regarding the resources provided for implementing the agreement.

Odile Join-Lambert, Institute for Economic and Social Research (IRES)

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