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The Status and Career Development of Civil Servants of the National Assembly
I. – THE STATUS OF CIVIL SERVANTS OF THE ASSEMBLY
According to article 8 of ordinance n°58-1100 of November 17, 1958 on the operation of the parliamentary assemblies, “tenured staff of parliamentary assembly departments are State civil servants whose status and retirement scheme are decided upon by the Bureau of the relevant assembly after consultation with the trade union staff representatives. They shall be recruited by competitive examination according to rules determined by the relevant bodies in each assembly. Administrative courts shall be called upon to deal with any individual disputes concerning such staff and their decisions shall be based upon the general principles of law and the fundamental guarantees recognized for all State civilian and military civil servants, as laid down in article 34 of the Constitution”.
These legislative provisions are based on the constitutionally-binding principle of the separation of powers, which has its corollary in the administrative and financial autonomy of the Assembly.
The civil servants of the departments of the National Assembly are thus State civil servants however the statutory provisions which concern the rest of the civil service do not apply to them. They are provided with a separate status which is decided upon by the Bureau. This status may not, however, be in contradiction with the general principles of law and fundamental guarantees recognized for other civil servants.
This status which is decided upon by the Bureau takes the form of Rules of Procedure on the Organization of Departments which define the status of the staff of the National Assembly. This document is usually referred to as the “Rules of Procedure”. It is supplemented by statutory application decrees which are decided upon either jointly by the President of the National Assembly and the Questeurs or by the Questeurs alone.
Despite some particularities which are due to the institution and to its history, the status of the civil servants of the National Assembly is quite close to that of other civil servants.
It must however be noted that the staff of the National Assembly have a very strict duty of professional discretion and political neutrality.
The staff also have an obligation of absolute availability as their rhythm of work must, at all times, be adaptable to that of parliamentary activity, be it according to the legislative calendar (extraordinary sessions) or the timetable of sittings (night sittings and committee meetings). It is for this reason that there is no provision setting down a weekly work limit or an annual right to holidays.
II. – STAFF STRUCTURE
All permanent positions within departments, with the exception of very technical jobs held by contract workers, are carried out by civil servants recruited by competitive examinations specific to the National Assembly.
Article 5 of the Rules of Procedure sets a cap of 1,349 on the number of civil servants. These are divided between 5 general branches representing 80% of the staff and 21 specialized branches representing 20%.
The distribution of civil servants is as follows: about 45% in legislative departments, 45% in administrative departments and 10% in joint departments.
The average age of civil servants of the National Assembly is currently 47 years old. Nearly 44% are older than 50 and 37% are between 40 and 50. Those under 40 represent only 19% of the overall staff numbers. Nonetheless, there are great differences between the various branches.
- The general branches are the following:
- Advisers and senior advisers (174): they are recruited among candidates possessing a Masters level. Once they have reached the rank of senior adviser they take on managerial positions: 45 senior advisers are heads of unit. Above this they may become directors (17), general directors (3) or secretaries general (2).
- Advisers work mainly in legislative departments (95% of the positions outside managerial posts) where they provide legal and technical assistance to M.P.s in the drawing-up of the law and in the monitoring of Government action. In the administrative or joint departments they mainly hold managerial positions.
- Deputy advisers (136, including 23 computer experts): candidates for the competitive examinations must have a Bachelor level. They mainly carry out management and documentation duties. In administrative departments they hold all the positions which were previously held by advisers.
- Departmental secretaries (190): candidates for this examination must have a professional secretarial diploma or a minimum of two years experience in the secretarial field. Departmental secretaries carry out the duties of an executive secretary including data processing.
- Administrative secretaries (55): these are recruited by internal competitive examination from among the porters. They carry out general administrative tasks.
- Porters (523): candidates for these positions must have professional experience of at least three years. They must also possess either a professional diploma or the school certificate taken at 16 years of age. They mainly carry out duties connected to reception, internal services or guided tours. The chauffeurs from the Transport Department are also part of this branch.
- The specialized branches correspond to the following positions or jobs:
- The writing-up of minutes: 63 précis-writers recruited at Master’s level.
- Security: 62 security officers. This competitive examination is limited to members of the military with at least fifteen years of service.
- Computing: 3 engineers, 2 deputies to the head of software programmes and 11 technicians, with the same status as administrative secretaries. In addition, the deputy adviser branch includes 23 computer experts.
- Buildings: the maximum staff provided for is 5 chief engineers and chief architects, 6 engineers and architects, 4 draftsmen and 47 professional workers divided between two categories.
- Catering: one technical director and 57 restaurant staff divided into three categories.
- Various positions: medical assistants, head of car-pool, mechanics, photographers etc.
- The hierarchy within the branches is as follows:
- level 1: advisers, précis-writers, chief engineers and chief architects and computer engineers ;
- level 2: deputy advisers and assimilated civil servants, technical director of the restaurants and catering staff belonging to the 4th category ;
- level 3: departmental secretaries and assimilated civil servants, administrative secretaries, catering staff belonging to the 3rd category and professional workers belonging to the 3rd category ;
- level 4: porters, security officers, catering staff belonging to the 2nd category and professional workers belonging to the 2nd category ;
- The three deputies to the head of software programmes are situated on a hierarchical level between level 1 and level 2.
- Civil servants belonging to a specific branch have the possibility of being promoted to the next highest branch. Such promotion is carried out exclusively by competitive examination.
- With the exception of specific provisions concerning staff appointments, the individual decisions concerning civil servants are the responsibility of:
- the President and the Questeurs as regards civil servants in categories 1 to 3, except for catering staff belonging to the 3rd and 4th categories and professional workers of the 4th category;
- the Questeurs for all other civil servants.
- the appointment of departmental directors and decisions concerning the secretaries general are the responsibility of the Bureau;
- the determination of the salary index for all civil servants is the responsibility of the Questeurs.
III. – CAREER AND ADVANCEMENT
1. – Recruitment by competitive examinations
Civil servants of the National Assembly are exclusively recruited by competitive examination according to rules set down by the Bureau.
The Rules of Procedure limit access to such examinations to French citizens and to citizens of the other member states of the European Union. The Questeurs are informed of the holding of all examinations and of any change in the rules of such examinations. At the end of the tests, the Questeurs receive a report on the results of the examinations, take official notice of the list of successful candidates and set down a date for the validity of the waiting list, should there be one.
The successful candidates must then carry out a year’s trial period as a probationer before being granted full tenure in their specific branch.
2.– Mobility within the departments of the National Assembly
Throughout their careers, the civil servants belonging to the five general branches will experience a variety of positions in both the legislative and the administrative departments.
Many measures have been taken in recent years in order to develop and encourage the mobility of “general” civil servants within the various departments of the National Assembly:
- Certain conditions for mobility have been gradually introduced into all the branches so that civil servants may have access to a promotion in their rank. Thus advisers may only be appointed senior adviser once they have held a position in two different departments for a minimum of two years each. Senior advisers may not be appointed directors unless they fulfil the same criteria. In addition, they must have carried out a period of three year in an administrative position since taking on a managerial post;
- Since April 2007, the maximum length of stay in a particular position for a “general” civil servant is eight years notwithstanding the examination by the secretaries general of the specific facts concerning individual situations (nearing retirement, special needs, particular requirements of the department etc.).
3.– External Mobility
The mobility of staff towards other administrations is possible and is even encouraged in some branches. It may take two forms:
- Advisers, précis-writers and deputy advisers may be placed “at the disposal” of a number of defined external bodies: foreign parliaments, European institutions, international organizations, the Economic, Social and Environmental Council, jurisdictional bodies or independent public or administrative authorities. In this case, the civil servant keeps his rights concerning promotion and retirement and continues to be paid by the National Assembly. This type of mobility is relatively institutionalized as a certain number of bodies regularly receive civil servants of the National Assembly who are placed at their disposal (Constitutional Council, Conseil d’Etat, Court of Accounts etc.). There are also exchange programmes with the Bundestag and the National Assembly of Québec;
- Secondment is the second type of mobility and is open to all categories. In this case, the civil servant keeps his rights concerning promotion and retirement but is paid by the receiving body. The list of bodies to which a civil servant may be seconded is much broader; in particular, it is possible to be seconded to a local authority which is not the case for the aforementioned type of mobility.
4. – In-house training
The types of in-house training on offer are mainly centred on the positions to be filled and these in turn vary as the activities and interests of the National Assembly evolve (increase in international programmes, progress in computer techniques, strengthening of security, development of communication etc.). A training project which is based on the plans of the various departments of the National Assembly combined with individual requests, is drawn up every year.
There are six main areas of training: foreign languages (group and individual classes), security (techniques linked to access security, first-aid), computing (training for computer specialists and in office automation), technical training periods (linked to specific positions such as writing of minutes, classes on public tenders, electricity, cooking), outside internships (foreign parliaments, local authorities) and communication and management techniques (reception, general management etc.).
Training programmes are also offered to civil servants who wish to sit the internal competitive examinations.
IV. – CAREER STRUCTURE
As in the rest of the civil service, each of the branches of the civil service within the National Assembly is divided into ranks and each of these is sub-divided into classes.
Each class and each rank have their own salary scale which is divided into grades. Each grade of this scale corresponds to an index which determines the salary.
Increase in grade within a class or a rank, is carried out according to length of service and occurs every two years. It may be delayed for disciplinary reasons or on account of lack of professionalism. Once he has reached the last grade on the index scale, a civil servant’s grade may no longer increase until he is appointed to the next highest class.
Promotion from one class or rank to the next is obtained on the basis of merit. Candidates are included on a promotion table drawn up by the President and the Questeurs upon a proposal of the Promotion Committee made up equally of representatives of the administration and of elected delegates of the staff.
The career development for the five “general” branches is the following:
- Advisers: they may be liable for promotion to the rank of senior adviser after twelve years. After four more years senior advisers reach the level of ‘special category’ in their rank. At this stage they may be appointed director and then general director. Appointments to these last two ranks, which are made by the Bureau and which only take place when a post is left vacant, do not require the drawing-up of a promotion table. Special category senior advisers may, in addition, be given, upon a proposal by the secretaries general, the title of deputy director, which does not constitute a rank.
- Members of the branch of précis-writers may have a similar career, although they may not go as far as the rank of director general.
- Deputy advisers: they enter the first class category upon being given tenure and can reach special category after eleven years service. At the end of a further five years, special category deputy advisers may be liable for promotion to the rank of principal. Principal deputy advisers may reach the level of exceptional class after three years at that rank.
- Departmental and administrative secretaries: they enter the second class category upon being given tenure and can reach the first class category after eleven years of service. After five years in the first class category they can reach special category. They may be appointed head of section after having spent two years in the special category.
- Porters: they enter the first class category upon being given tenure and can reach special category after eleven years service. At the end of a further three years, special category porters may be liable for promotion to the rank of first porter. First porters may be appointed head of group after three years at that rank. They may then become deputy head porter and subsequently head porter. At the top of this branch is the rank of Head of Porters of which there is only one.