The French Civil Service Elections. I – The New Playing Field.

Written by Mickus   
Tuesday, 09 September 2014 00:05
by Francis Mickus

An introduction might help: I have been working as a guard in the French Ministry of Culture’s museums and monuments for the last 19 years. I have been a card carrying member of the CGT for most of that time. I have served as a union representative on the occupational health and safety committees and am currently running for a seat as a union representative at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

This is a journal of sorts about the upcoming elections.

You wouldn’t know it from the scant coverage it gets – even in the local press – but there is a major election coming up. It concerns some five million people, or roughly 5% of the working age population. It is the labor representative elections for the French civil service, which will be held next December 4th.

It might help to point out how much things have changed.

In 2008, Labor and Government signed an agreement, called the "Bercy Accords", which greatly overhauled Labor representation. In France, there are three aspects of the civil service (the French call them the ‘three slopes’): national government, local government, and hospitals. Elections are regularly held to establish labor representation. These elections are usually staggered: each slope holds its election at different intervals. This December 4th, as if to establish a clean slate, elections for the entire civil service will be held on the same day.

The sheer number of people called to vote, spread over all of France, is logistically daunting. Moreover, each worker can cast a vote either by mail or on election day. The ballot is counted on the following day. The date on the post mark is sufficient proof that your vote has been cast on time, but if the ballot gets in a day late, it most likely won’t be counted. It will be a task in itself to get workers to cast their vote in time.

Traditionally in France, a given election is held to decide one question. There isn’t the ballot booklet you would receive in the States. A referendum decides a law; an election votes for a single candidate or office. A specific Sunday is periodically set aside to make these decisions. This time around there will be not one, but THREE elections held on the same day. First both the local and national ‘Technical Committees’ will be elected. Through these Committees, Labor has a say in the way a given institution or, at the National Level, a given Ministry is run. Questions involving the number of employees needed on the site, job training, or task organization are discussed here. Alongside these two offices, there is an administrative committee for each rank held in the civil service. This committee follows the careers (including promotions and pay scales as well as disciplinary problems) of each and every person employed by the Civil Service.

This quick overview should be enough to show what is at stake for each and every employee in the civil service. As is the case in all elections, voter turnout will be vital in establishing the elected representatives’ credibility.

But it will be difficult to convince the workers that such an election will even be worthwhile. Locally, management has a tendency to bulldoze its decisions even if the labor representatives object; nationally, government has ordered an across the board freeze in salaries and promotions. It seems difficult to imagine the effect of any labor representation. Yet, these institutions do make a difference, if only to remind management of its responsibilities and to keep labor abreast of the decisions the bosses make and how those decisions will affect them. Competent representatives will always ask annoying (if not downright irritating) questions. Incompetent representation will bob its collective head and say “yes boss”.

Management would like nothing better than to see the election go bust through low voter turn out. Its hostility towards labor’s need is something of a standard attitude. At the Musée d’Orsay, for instance, over the last ten years, it has been able to scuttle any overhaul of the rules governing the workplace. The previous set of guidelines dates back to 2003. Something as simple as the number of people needed for a specific task can remain unstated, and since such questions do need to be answered, currently management is floating a draft dated 2011 and trying to pass it off as the official document, even though a version has been ratified in 2014 by the health and safety board (more on them later). The consultation is compulsory, even if the outcome is merely considered advisory, and is not binding: management has at times overruled labor’s veto for a given decision, but such a policy as standard practice would make management appear hostile to labor’s needs. Why a weakened (if not compliant) labor representation is desirable becomes clear.

A solid voter turnout with a clear outcome would be a strong signal from the workforce that it doesn’t buy the current dogma stating that the only way to get things done is the way management sees fit. The bosses’ whims are not the best guideposts to properly running an institution, or even an entire government. Workers have needs to get their jobs done. They need proper salaries, the right tools and enough people to complete the task. The people outside need civil servants to do their job well. They rely on those services to be able to do their own jobs. They need well maintained roads, firefighters when in danger, safe parks and good schools for their kids, or even well run museum to show the nation’s prized collections...

The government that governs best does not govern the least. It serves the needs of society, and the needs of the people living in society. Those workers that really do their jobs know that it is a scam to say that to lower the deficit is to lower spending, i.e. salaries. But will the signal be sent? Given the current state of membership, unions will have their work cut out for them over the next four months.

Paris, September 9th, 2014 your social media marketing partner
Email This Page