Shirkers’ Paradise - The French ambition to become a fonctionnaire

shirkerA discouraging statistic for Nicolas Sarkozy is that instead of longing for the bracing air of a full market economy some 76 per cent of young French, aged 15 to 24, admitted in a recent survey that their ambition was to become a fonctionnaire, an employee of local or national government. Presumably, those who don’t share this desire have emigrated to the UK. Of course, the appeal of the civil service is obvious enough.

Once given established status, an employee has security plus longer holidays and earlier retirement than those in the private sector. And, if you’re a savvy character, you don’t have to do too much for your money. That was made notoriously clear not long ago by Corinne Meier, an employee of EDF, whose book Bonjour Paresse was a handbook explaining to civil servants “the art of doing as little as possible in the workplace”. Basically it boiled down to looking busy (always carry a fat file) and saying one was busy. That’s the way to be left in peace ... and probably promoted.

Meier’s bosses, her colleagues and the civil service unions were enraged by her book but now the cushy world of the fonctionnaires is under attack again. A senator, Philippe Marini, has presented a report to an official committee giving a devastating account of levels of absenteeism in the civil service. The average length of time off the job in a given year is 17 working days. That’s twice the time in the private sector and costs national and local government some 11 billion euros annually. The total working hours lost are the equivalent of a 100,000 jobs! Marini doesn’t mince his words: “Of course, people get sick but there’s extensive abuse of the system. The trouble is in these jobs there’s poor human resources management and unwillingness to crack down on shirkers. There’s got to be a change.” On verra ...