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France takes unions by surprise with 'attack' on public sector jobs

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France takes unions by surprise with 'attack' on public sector jobs
Civil servants protest against government plans to freeze their pay and eliminate 120,000 public jobs. Photo: AFP
09:32 CET+01:00
The French government surprised labour unions Thursday by announcing voluntary buyouts for some of the country's five million civil servants, an unprecedented move against jobs which are largely considered secure for life.
Talks with union leaders will begin this month, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and budget minister Gerard Darmanin said at a press conference.
   
"What's at stake is adapting the status of public service, making it more flexible, so that it can once again be an efficient framework for public action," Philippe said at a press conference.
   
President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to axe 120,000 public jobs within four years, though just 1,600 layoffs were announced as part of his 2018 budget.
   
Philippe said the state would also use more temporary contracts to fill public jobs, and begin introducing merit-based pay in the highly rigid civil service categories.
 
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But unions wasted no time denouncing the moves.
   
"We are dealing with a president and a government making a frontal attack on public services," said Jean-Marc Canon of the CGT, the largest union among civil servants.
   
Public workers have been able to request a payout in exchange for resigning since 2008, but this would be the first mass buyout offer in the sector, unions say.
   
A government source said the offers would be financed from the 700-million-euro ($870 million) envelope earmarked for reforming public services over Macron's five-year term.
   
Just this year the president made it easier to offer voluntary redundancies in the private sector, a change that companies like carmaker PSA and retailer Carrefour have seized upon.
   
"You can't fix a country, you can't aim higher, without realising that sometimes you need to shake up and change these situations," Philippe said Thursday.
   
But public-sector unions already had their hackles up after their salaries were frozen for 2018, and a potential strike is on the agenda for a meeting set for Tuesday.
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