State and local authorities are called to order by the Court of Auditors. Their fault? Resist strictly applying the 35-hour working week rule. And this, despite the entry into force, in 2019, of the law on the transformation of the civil service, which had the effect of removing almost all of the provisions which made it possible to deviate from the legal working hours.
Thus, four years after the promulgation of the text, and while 1 in 5 employees work in the public service, “the proportion of State agents working less than 1,607 hours [par an, soit 35 heures par semaine] remains identical”, notes the Court of Auditors in a progress report unveiled on Wednesday November 8.
An “ostensible” refusal to apply the 35 hours
Worse, since the 2019 law, certain branches of the state civil service have even experienced a slight increase in the proportion of agents working less than 35 hours per week. Like the customs services, which, however, “due to specific constraints linked to Brexit”, were forced to open offices “twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week”, specifies the President of the Court, Pierre Moscovici.
The territorial civil service is not left out. With an average annual working time of 1,579 hours, this stands out for a duration “very much lower” than the 1,607 hours obligatory since 2019. Some local authorities even “conspicuously” refuse to modify the working time of their agents , and would adopt circumvention devices to do so.
This is the case of the municipality of Méricourt (Pas-de-Calais), for which the obligation to align with 35 hours “constitutes a serious attack on the principle of free administration of local authorities and the theory of acquired advantages” , and which thus continues to apply the previous regime, specifies the report.
A culture of derogation that creates inequalities
But, if the Court of Auditors does not contest the reduction in working time granted to certain agents to compensate for specific constraints, it nevertheless warns of the negative externalities of these exemptions, which generate, according to it, “inequal treatment” between civil servants.
“Several communities have maintained a high number of derogatory regimes, while others have circumvented the obligations by deliberations of facade regularization”, deplores the financial jurisdiction. A legal vagueness which revolves around the “maintenance of previous agreements” and “historical devices”, the usefulness of which would today be largely questionable.
In addition, the wise men of Rue Cambon insist on the “principle of parity”, which establishes a trait of equality between agents attached to the State civil service and those operating within the framework of territorial public employment. However, here again, significant disparities persist. The former would work on average around one hundred hours more per year than the latter.
Reasons why the Court of Auditors asks the Ministry of the Civil Service to publish an “inventory” of exemptions in the State civil service, and to “put an end to situations not provided for by the texts”. And to recommend drawing up “an assessment of the harmonization of working time in the territorial civil service [afin de] limit the risks of deviations.
The Prime Minister’s response
In her response, annexed to the report of the Court of Auditors, the Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, ensures, based on an administration report, that, “in 2021, the effective annual duration of work in the public service ( excluding teachers) [était] of 1,612 hours for full-time agents”. The Rue Cambon report also shows that public employers have taken little advantage of the new recruitment methods offered by the 2019 law, such as the project contract or the CDI from the first hire in the public sector.
An observation made while the government is preparing a new major reform of the civil service for 2024. “Let’s start by applying the law as it is before preparing other laws,” Pierre Moscovici insisted on Wednesday. “[Certaines données de la Cour étant datées,] “it does not appear to me to have been demonstrated that employers have not appropriated these new recruitment possibilities”, replied Elisabeth Borne.