The pub­lic sec­tor

An above-av­er­age per­cent­age of France’s work­force is em­ployed in the pub­lic sec­tor, so what makes it so at­trac­tive? Kate McNally ex­plains the French sys­tem and the ben­e­fits it of­fers

Living France - - Contents -

How dif­fer­ent jobs are cat­e­gorised and the changes that could oc­cur

The pub­lic sec­tor in France is con­sid­ered by many as hal­lowed ground. Those work­ing in the pub­lic sec­tor on a per­ma­nent con­tract – pub­lic ser­vants, known as fonc­tion­naires, and con­tract agents – en­joy al­most fool­proof job se­cu­rity, well-pro­tected rights, above-av­er­age holiday en­ti­tle­ment, gen­er­ous sick pay, plus a good pen­sion at the end of their stint.

France has a large per­cent­age of the coun­try’s work­force em­ployed in the pub­lic sec­tor – around 25%, cur­rently some 5.4 mil­lion peo­ple, sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the Euro­pean av­er­age. How­ever, Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron has stated his in­ten­tion to cut 120,000 pub­lic sec­tor jobs by 2022, as part of ef­forts to re­duce pub­lic spend­ing and the na­tion’s debt.

So what parts of the eco­nomic and so­cial fab­ric of France are in­cluded in the pub­lic sec­tor? How do you get a job work­ing for the state? And is the sta­tus quo likely to con­tinue?


There are three prin­ci­pal sec­tors of pub­lic ser­vice – state gov­ern­ment jobs ( la fonc­tion publique de l’État); lo­cal and re­gional au­thor­i­ties ( la fonc­tion publique ter­ri­to­ri­ale); and hospi­tal ser­vices ( la fonc­tion publique hos­pi­tal­ière).


This sec­tor is the largest, with around 2.3 mil­lion pub­lic ser­vants, rep­re­sent­ing al­most 45% of the pub­lic sec­tor work­force, ac­tive in more than 260 dif­fer­ent types of jobs. By far the ma­jor­ity work for the min­istries, es­sen­tially the ed­u­ca­tion min­istry (teach­ers rep­re­sent a large pro­por­tion of this sec­tor), and the trans­port, in­te­rior and de­fence min­istries (8% work for the mil­i­tary). Oth­ers oc­cupy roles in cen­tral ad­min­is­tra­tion and de­volved ser­vices.


With ap­prox­i­mately 1.8 mil­lion em­ploy­ees, this sec­tor ac­counts for around 35% of pub­lic sec­tor work­ers, work­ing in just over 240 dif­fer­ent types of jobs.

Three-quar­ters are em­ployed by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties ( col­lec­tiv­ités lo­cales), which are re­spon­si­ble for de­liv­er­ing a large chunk of pub­lic ser­vices (hy­giene, trans­port, child­care, sports fa­cil­i­ties, etc.). The other quar­ter work in pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion roles.


The hospi­tal sec­tor ac­counts for just over 20% of the pub­lic work­force, the vast ma­jor­ity (over 90%) be­ing hospi­tal em­ploy­ees, pre­dom­i­nantly nurses and car­ers, as well as those em­ployed in el­derly care homes and other so­cial-med­i­cal es­tab­lish­ments. There are about 200 jobs iden­ti­fied in this sec­tor, and un­like in the rest of the pub­lic sec­tor, med­i­cal staff in hos­pi­tals are gov­erned by spe­cific statu­tory pro­vi­sions as op­posed to a gen­eral statute of pub­lic ser­vice.


Within these three sec­tors, there are three cat­e­gories of em­ploy­ment: • Cat­e­gory A and A+ in­cludes the higher level pro­fes­sions such as plan­ning, man­age­ment and train­ing (for ex­am­ple, a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, an en­gi­neer), as well as the teach­ing pro­fes­sion. • Cat­e­gory B rep­re­sents mid­dle man­age­ment roles and qual­i­fied tech­ni­cians, for ex­am­ple a re­gional author­ity em­ployee, build­ing in­spec­tor or nurse. • Cat­e­gory C in­cludes more man­ual roles re­quir­ing spe­cific skills, such as a cook or an elec­tri­cian.

Equally, there are dif­fer­ent types of con­tract or statutes:

Ti­t­u­laire – as ti­t­u­laire in a post, you are a fully-fledged fonc­tion­naire and there­fore ben­e­fit from the best rights and en­ti­tle­ments. It ba­si­cally means that the em­ployee is en­ti­tled to a cer­tain grade of em­ploy­ment within their par­tic­u­lar ‘ fonc­tion publique’ – they can ap­ply for other jobs of the same grade, even in a dif­fer­ent role (i.e. mov­ing from

HR into com­mu­ni­ca­tions), and will have pri­or­ity over some­one ap­ply­ing on a lower grade, even if the other per­son has more ex­pe­ri­ence in that field. Equally, if they are moved to a lower grade func­tion for any rea­son (job cuts or lack of re­sources), they are guar­an­teed the higher pay of their ti­t­u­laire post.

Con­tract agents ( agents con­tractuels) – many pub­lic sec­tor em­ploy­ees en­ter the sys­tem as con­tract agents, un­til they be­come ti­t­u­laire in a post. As a con­tract agent, they have a per­ma­nent work con­tract and en­joy equiv­a­lent salaries and ben­e­fits as a fonc­tion­naire, how­ever they can be re­quired to move or change jobs to meet the needs of their em­ployer. For ex­am­ple, a teacher, at the be­gin­ning of their ca­reer, may be as­signed to a dif­fer­ent school at any time to fill a va­cant po­si­tion (of­ten work­ing in two or three dif­fer­ent schools), un­til they have ac­cu­mu­lated suf­fi­cient points to ac­cess a po­si­tion as ti­t­u­laire.

Tem­po­rary work­ers – tem­po­rary work­ers are em­ployed on a fixed con­tract, and have the same rights and obli­ga­tions as per­ma­nent em­ploy­ees.


Sim­i­lar to in the UK, pub­lic ser­vants are re­mu­ner­ated via a ba­sic in­dica­tive wage cal­cu­lated in line with a fairly com­plex grad­ing sys­tem, with slid­ing scales, de­signed to re­flect se­nior­ity, man­age­ment lev­els, qual­i­fi­ca­tions and skills, as well as the com­plex­ity of roles and the tasks in­volved.

On top of this wage, they re­ceive a va­ri­ety of ad­di­tional indemnity pay­ments cal­cu­lated ac­cord­ing to where they work (i.e. ge­o­graph­i­cal weight­ing), num­ber of chil­dren, as well as bonuses awarded for technical ex­per­tise and re­spon­si­bil­ity in their pro­fes­sional role. The ma­jor­ity of these bonuses and re­wards only ap­ply to fonc­tion­naires work­ing in the État and ter­ri­to­rial pub­lic ser­vices – those work­ing in hospi­tal ser­vices, in­clud­ing con­tract work­ers, are sub­ject to a more struc­tured indemnity sys­tem re­lat­ing to work con­di­tions and hours.

Re­cent re­ports sug­gest that, on av­er­age, wages are higher in the pub­lic sec­tor by a few hun­dred eu­ros per month than in the pri­vate sec­tor. How­ever, this varies de­pend­ing on the job. No­tably, it ap­pears that man­agers in the pub­lic sec­tor are paid less on av­er­age than their coun­ter­parts in the pri­vate sec­tor, while lower skilled work­ers earn more in the pub­lic sec­tor.

Sim­i­larly, re­tire­ment pen­sions for the same job are cur­rently higher in the pub­lic sec­tor.


There are a few stan­dard re­quire­ments to gain en­try into the civil ser­vice, in­clud­ing French cit­i­zen­ship and a clean po­lice record. You also need the req­ui­site qual­i­fi­ca­tions and de­grees (or equiv­a­lent) ap­pro­pri­ate for the level of job (or en­try exam, see be­low) that you’re tar­get­ing.

The prin­ci­pal route into the pub­lic sec­tor is via the civil ser­vice en­try ex­am­i­na­tion, known as a ‘ con­cours’ in France. Those who pass the ex­ams with the best re­sults are se­lected to fill the em­ploy­ment quota.

Again, there are dif­fer­ent types of en­try exam: • The con­cours ex­ternes are open to can­di­dates, cur­rently op­er­at­ing out­side the pub­lic sec­tor, who have a de­gree or equiv­a­lent qual­i­fi­ca­tion. In the case of the exam for Cat­e­gory C po­si­tions, some­times can­di­dates are re­quired to have rel­e­vant trade-re­lated qual­i­fi­ca­tions as a pre-req­ui­site to sit­ting the exam (for ex­am­ple, a child­care as­sis­tant).

The con­cours in­ternes are only for peo­ple al­ready em­ployed in the civil ser­vice, ei­ther as a way to gain pro­mo­tion or to move into a dif­fer­ent area of ex­per­tise.

What’s known as the ‘ con­cours de troisième voie’ (or the third en­try route) are the en­try ex­ams open to can­di­dates from the pri­vate sec­tor who have worked in a pro­fes­sional ca­pac­ity – ei­ther as an em­ployee, volunteer or elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive – for a cer­tain length of time and are seek­ing to switch into the pub­lic sec­tor.

In some sit­u­a­tions, it is pos­si­ble to ap­ply for a job in the civil ser­vice with­out tak­ing an en­try exam. Some Cat­e­gory C posts are filled by di­rect re­cruit­ment. Equally a con­tract agent who has been em­ployed in the pub­lic sec­tor for four years, can ap­ply to be­come ‘ ti­t­u­laire’ in their job, thereby be­com­ing a fonc­tion­naire. In ad­di­tion, there are al­ter­na­tive routes of­fered to young un­qual­i­fied ap­pli­cants, who can ap­ply via the PACTE en­try scheme ( par­cours d’ac­cès aux car­rières de la fonc­tion publique), and to dis­abled ap­pli­cants.

Fur­ther­more, each of the three pub­lic ser­vice sec­tors may, at any time, find they need to em­ploy tem­po­rary agency staff to en­sure con­ti­nu­ity of ser­vice pro­vi­sion.


As men­tioned ear­lier, Em­manuel Macron and his En Marche!-led gov­ern­ment, have set their sights clearly on re­form­ing the pub­lic sec­tor in France, aim­ing to bring it more in line with other Euro­pean coun­tries and en­gen­der greater flex­i­bil­ity to make France more com­pet­i­tive glob­ally. Changes in­clude plans to scrap job-for-life guar­an­tees, au­to­matic an­nual pay rises and early re­tire­ment en­ti­tle­ments.

That said, im­ple­ment­ing re­form in France is never a sim­ple af­fair. The coun­try’s pub­lic sec­tor unions are not about to let the nascent gov­ern­ment have it all their own way – var­i­ous strikes have al­ready taken place and more hover on the hori­zon.

Pub­lic opin­ion among the French re­mains di­vided at present, with, in­evitably, less sym­pa­thy from those work­ing in the pri­vate sec­tor. It’s likely, how­ever, that the even­tual vic­tor in this cur­rent bat­tle will be de­cided by which way the pub­lic opin­ion swings. As they say in France, on verra...

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