France: Unions criticise plans for sick leave waiting period in public sector

EI-affiliated trade union groups in France have strongly criticised the French government's intention to reinstate a waiting day for public service employees in case of sick leave, describing the measure as “ineffective” and “unfair”.

FSU: An unfair and ineffective measure

In France, the waiting period refers to the period during which an employee on sick leave is not entitled to daily allowances paid by the social security system.

One of the union groups, the Fédération syndicale unitaire (FSU) has asked the government to reverse its 6 July decision to reinstate the waiting day for civil servants. The Minister of Public Action and Accounts, Gérald Darmanin, announced the decision during the official review of the nation's accounts.

The “waiting day is unfair and ineffective”, according to the FSU, which believes that the Minister has made "the staff taking sick leave responsible for the disorganisation of the departments and the increase in workload". Restoring the waiting day amounts to a salary reduction for those civil servants who take sick leave and punishes them, considering them guilty of being ill, says the FSU.

In addition, the federation emphasises that the alleged equality with private-sector employees does not hold - two-thirds of private-sector employees, most of whom are employed in companies with over 250 employees, have their waiting days covered by company specific agreements. It noted that there is inequality between private-sector employees who are fully covered, and those for whom waiting days are fully or partially applied.

The FSU is calling for the abolition of waiting days in both the private and public sectors. It says studies have shown that employees subject to waiting days take fewer, albeit longer, periods of leave, thus demonstrating that waiting days do not combat absenteeism. Reducing sick leave will require changes to working conditions, strengthening preventive medicine, which is all but non-existent for most civil servants, and developing measures aimed at improving quality of life at work, according to the FSU.

UNSA: a demagogic and unfair measure

The UNSA-Civil Service is also in opposition to the proposed move. General Secretary Luc Farré said the decision “is profoundly unfair as it affects the health of civil servants while their working conditions are worsened. Civil servants do not take leave for no reason!”

Civil servants are not covered by collective labour agreements, unlike two-thirds of private-sector employees, he said.

The decision is “demagogic, as it is not this measure representing €170 million which will rebalance France's budget and which will enable it to save the €5 billion necessary for closing the 2017 budget, according to the audit of the French Central Audit Office”.

After the announced salary freeze, this measure shows a lack of government recognition of civil servants' commitment to their duties, according to the union group. The Minister also confirmed that 120,000 jobs were being cut, said Farré, emphasising the fact that “the civil service and civil servants cannot systematically be reduced to a budgetary line!”

The UNSA-Civil Service is calling for improved working conditions and quality of life in the workplace, and re-affirmed that “the sole deficiency is the lack of social dialogue in the three recent announcements that affect civil servants”.

Stigmatisation of civil servants

General Secretary of Force Ouvrière Jean-Claude Mailly believes that the measure is a “means of stigmatising civil servants for a financial return that is not particularly significant”. He added that "65-70 per cent of private-sector employees do not have any waiting days at all".

Jean-Marc Canon, General Secretary of the Union Générale des Fédérations de Fonctionnaires-Confédération générale du travail (UGFF-CGT), said: “After the freezing of the value of the salary index point for 2018, this is a new measure of social downturn and a new attack against civil servants. As for social dialogue, such a unilateral announcement is most unwelcome just two days away from a preliminary plenary meeting with the unions.”

Mylène Jacquot of the Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT) said: “The establishment of a waiting day is in no way whatsoever a policy for prevention or for the improvement of quality of life at work.”

Background

While the waiting period is set at three days for private-sector employees, there is no such period for civil servants. For the latter, compensation is paid from the first day of their sickness leave. In the private sector, an employee's loss of salary is often compensated by the employer, except for small to medium-sized enterprises and independent traders. This is not the case in the civil service, which does not provide for financial compensation.

On 6 July, the Minister of Public Action and Accounts, Gérald Darmanin, officially announced the reinstatement of the waiting day in the civil service, a measure listed in Emmanuel Macron's programme during the presidential elections. “Although the waiting day should not be the sole tool for combating absenteeism among civil servants ... it serves to combat micro-absenteeism which disorganises departments, increases the workload of colleagues who are in the office, and costs around €170 million per year,” he stated at the official review of the nation's accounts held at Bercy. The Minister then specified that the measure, intended specifically to “restore equality between the public and private sectors”, would be included in the draft Finances Act for 2018.

The waiting day for public servants had already been established on 1 January 2012, under the Sarkozy presidency. It was subsequently abolished on 1 January 2014, under the former Ayrault government.

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