Sarkozy wants 'cultural revolution' in civil service

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NANTES, France, Sep 19 (Reuters) President Nicolas Sarkozy called for a ''cultural revolution'' to shake up France's archaic civil service today, cutting numbers of employees but raising the pay of those kept on.

He vowed to reduce the number of places at ENA, the exclusive training school for French state functionaries, and he said civil servants should be allowed to choose their job contracts and be better paid for overtime.

''What I am proposing, it's a cultural revolution, a revolution for changing the way we think, for changing behaviour,'' Sarkozy said in a speech to civil servants in Nantes, wedstern France.

The government had already floated proposals to cut the number of public sector workers as part of a plan to reduce the budget deficit next year.

Sarkozy confirmed that next year, one in three retiring public sector worker would not be replaced and that this number could go up in the future.

This will mean around 22,700 posts will not be filled next year, compared to 12,000 left unfilled in 2007. Public Accounts Minister Eric Woerth has estimated this would result in savings of up to 550 million dollars next year.

Sarkozy said the reductions were necessary to help the government pay its bills and to make sure taxpayers money was not being wasted.

''Making productivity gains is the only way to avoid being forced some day into an austerity policy to avoid the explosion of debt,'' he said.

The government has promised the European Union it will reduce it's budget deficit, and is aiming for a shortfall of 2.3 per cent of gross domestic product in 2008, slightly lower than an expected 2.4 per cent this year.

But unions, which count many public sector workers among their members, have expressed concern about the plan.

In an effort to head off complaints from union leaders, who are already unhappy about his plan to scale back pensions for some public sector workers, Sarkozy said the government would hold talks with them over the next few months.

The government has sought to defuse criticism of the plans by limiting the job cuts in more politically sensitive areas.

Sarkozy said reductions in education staff would be worked around the school timetable and in the tax administration they would depend on progress made on computerisation.

REUTERS GL BD2125

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