Sarkozy moves to streamline public service
19 September 2007
PARIS (AFP) – President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday rolled out plans to streamline France’s huge public sector, the latest in a series of reforms that have antagonized the country’s unions.
A day after launching an overhaul of pension benefits for some public employees, Sarkozy said he would resort to attrition and buy-outs to reduce the civil service, which employs 5.2 million people — one in five in the French workforce.
“I want a public service that is smaller, better paid and with better career prospects,” Sarkozy said in a speech to students at a public management institute in the western city of Nantes.
After taking office in May, Sarkozy had announced that 22,700 public servants who will be retiring next year would not be replaced, the biggest job cut in government services in six years.
In his address, Sarkozy reiterated an election promise to replace only half of retiring civil servants in the coming years, but said that would be carried out in tandem with deep reforms of public sector services.
“We must radically reform the public service so that civil servants do not feel powerless because they do not know what is expected of them,” said Sarkozy in the address broadcast nationwide.
Painting a dark picture of the state of the public sector, Sarkozy talked about a “malaise that is pervasive” in the nation’s schools, hospitals and government offices.
He said the state had become “penniless and powerless while extending its reach and becoming tentacular.”
Sarkozy also spoke of an anti-fraud programme to prevent squandering of public funds, saying: “To not waste a single euro in public funds, that is the ideal that we must strive for.”
Some 5.2 million people are currently on the government payroll, including about 900,000 teachers and more than one million doctors and other health care workers in the nation’s hospitals and retirement homes.
In his address, Sarkozy argued that previous attempts to reform the public service had been piecemeal and stressed the need for a comprehensive approach to be developed, with 2012 as a target date.
He said employees who wanted to leave the service should be allowed to opt for a buyout and called for debate on what he termed an “individualization of salaries” to take into account “merit, commitment, experience and results,” moving away from the current model of set pay scales.
Responding to his plan, the FSU teachers’ union accused Sarkozy of “dynamiting the founding principles of the public service” while offering little concrete proposals to improve wages and working conditions.
The union vowed to mobilise its members although FSU secretary general Gerard Aschieri said the response would “not necessarily be a strike or a protest.”
Sarkozy on Tuesday announced plans to scrap pension benefits that allow hundreds of thousands of employees from the railways, the state-owned GDF gas and EDF electricity suppliers and even theatre workers to retire as early as 50.
He tasked Employment Minister Xavier Bertrand with leading two weeks of negotiations with the unions on a blueprint for the reforms of the so-called “special regimes” with a view to reaching a deal in the coming months.
Union leaders, who have said they were willing to sit down and discuss the government’s proposals, warned they would not be railroaded into an agreement on the complex changes.
On Wednesday, the CGT union at the state-owned SNCF rail company said it would submit a plan to other unions for a “united national mobilisation, including a national strike.”
France’s biggest union, the CGT, said a protest planned for October 13 would send out a message on the need to safeguard welfare benefits.
The leader of the opposition Socialists, Francois Hollande, accused Sarkozy of launching a “major offensive” on the welfare state.
Subject: French news