Home > English > The National Assembly in the French Institutions > File n° 83
The creation of the position of parliamentary assistant (or M.P.’s secretary) dates from 1975. It represents, in a certain way, the end of a long process which fulfils the wishes of M.P.s to avail, along with their parliamentary allowance seen as a salary, of human and material means enabling them to meet the various expenses engendered by their office and which reinforce the means collectively allocated to the political groups.
This process has been marked by several steps.
In 1953 an allowance compensating the secretarial expenses of M.P.s, was created. This was abolished in1958.
The allowance for a typing assistant, which was created in 1970, replaced the mechanism introduced in 1968 which provided M.P.s with the possibility of setting up a personal secretariat or of using the services of a collective secretariat organized within each political group. The object and the conditions of the management of this allowance were modified on several occasions right up until 1997. In that year, the secretariat allowance was replaced by the office expenses allowance (IRFM) which was to cover the expenses linked to the carrying out of the M.P.’s position, which are not reimbursed by the National Assembly. As a special expense allowance, it is not subject to income tax but to a solidarity contribution at the rate of 8 %. As of July 1, 2009, it amounts to €6 361 per month.
However, at a time when the demands placed on M.P.s in the carrying out of their functions were growing and required the help of assistants similar to those in certain foreign parliaments such as the US Congress, the request of the M.P.s for assistance was bound to go beyond that of mere secretarial support. This explains the implementation of a grant specifically aiming at the recruitment of private assistants. This grant was called the ‘assistant allowance’.
I. – THE STATUS OF PARLIAMENTARY ASSISTANTS
1. – The principle of the M.P./employer and the application of ordinary labour law
The M.P. has at his disposal an allowance which enables him to recruit up to five assistants. As of July 1, 2009, this monthly allowance amounts to €9 066.
The basic principle which, in a way, is the keystone of the system, is that the M.P. is the employer. The assistant is the employee of the M.P. and not of the National Assembly. This principle, which was reinforced in 2002 by the possibility for the M.P. to directly manage his assistant allowance, is at the basis of all the rules and mechanisms which govern the relationship between the M.P. and his assistant(s):
- The M.P. has the position of employer. He can freely recruit his assistants, dismiss them and set their work and pay conditions, as long as he respects the provisions of the labour code;
- The assistants are recruited on the basis of a private law contract. Generally speaking, these are open-ended contracts but the M.P. may recruit his assistants on the basis of a fixed-term contract (within the conditions laid down by the labour code) or offer specific contracts when a civil servant is seconded to him in application of the laws pertaining to the status of civil servants. The open-ended contract continues if the M.P./employer is re-elected. However it is terminated upon the end of the M.P.’s term of office or in the case of a dissolution;
- Stock contracts, the clauses of which are approved by the Questeurs, are made available to the M.P.s by the department of Financial Affairs. They contain two stipulations which are directly linked to the method of management of the assistant allowance. The first, concerning the object of the contract, states that “the employer, acting on his own account, employs the employee who is legally subordinate to him and enjoys all his confidence to assist him in the carrying-out of his function of M.P.”. The second states that “the termination, for whatever reason, of the term of the M.P./employer constitutes a reasonable cause for the ending of the contract”.
In the case of disagreement between the M.P./employer and his assistant, the Industrial Tribunal is alone competent, as for any dispute between an employee and his employer in a private company. It should be noted that there has been a considerable increase in the number of such disputes brought before the Industrial Tribunal in recent years.
An assistants’ organization called into question the principle of the M.P./employer by attempting to have the magistrates’ court of the 7th district of Paris recognize the existence of an economic and social unity between the M.P./employers and the assistants. The application was rejected by a judgement rendered on May 21, 2002, stating that the social advantages and, more generally, the work conditions of the assistants were similar to the notion of “the mutualisation of means, which was usual within the same profession” and concluded that “the absence of a real community of workers and of economic unity prevented the recognition of the existence of an economic and social unity between the M.P.s of the National Assembly”. This judgement was the subject of an appeal to the Court of Cassation. The Social Tribunal of the Court of Cassation rejected it with a ruling on February 18, 2004 which stated that “there is no unity of management over the parliamentary assistants” and that “the M.P.s who make up the National Assembly do not (therefore) constitute an economic and social unity”.
2. – The management of the assistant allowance delegated to the financial affairs department
The Financial Affairs Department of the National Assembly is generally responsible for the management of the assistant allowance of the M.P.s who sign a management power of attorney to this effect.
The Financial Affairs Department, upon the instructions of each M.P., attributes the remuneration of the assistants and carries out, on behalf of the M.P.s, the management measures such as the issuing of pay slips, the payment of salaries with the necessary contributions and the drawing-up of and the transmission to the relevant organizations of the social and tax declarations. In so doing, it merely carries out the function of a service-provider.
Since 2002, this has been purely a service provided to the M.P.s. Certain M.P.s prefer to manage their assistant allowance directly. They thus receive the equivalent of one and a half times the basic allowance to cover the employer costs.
3. – Social protection and parliamentary assistants
The salaried assistants come under the general social security system for salaried workers as regards sickness, maternity, death, work accidents and old-age, under the supplementary retirement scheme for salaried workers under private law and under the unemployment insurance scheme. They benefit from the provisions of the labour code concerning vocational training.
Since 1975, a number of measures have improved the situation of assistants. Apart from the fact that their salaries have been re-indexed to be aligned with those of the public sector, many of the employer costs are financed outside of the assistant allowance. These include:
- From the beginning, the obligatory employer social and tax costs which represent about half of the gross salary contributed to the assistant allowance;
- From 1978, the severance pay at the end of a contract (dismissal benefit and job-security allowance equal to half the former, compensatory notice allowances and paid holidays) all given to assistants in the case of the termination of the term of the M.P./employer;
- Various expenses linked to specific training given to assistants (training provided by the National School of Administration since 1986 and by the National Centre for Territorial Administration since 1991, English courses since 1992), linked to occupational medicine and linked to the assistants’ transport costs for journeys between Paris and the constituency, requested by the M.P./employer;
In addition, other fringe benefits are given to the assistants:
- The 13th month allowance, which was introduced in 1982 and is the equivalent of an extra month’s basic salary ;
- The child-minder’s benefit which has been granted for children under three years of age, since 1988;
- The contingency bonus, which since 1998 has replaced the limited reimbursement of the costs of a mutual insurance company;
- The meal allowance ( food allowance or luncheon vouchers), introduced in May 2000.
At the outset, these advantages were directly taken care of by the budget of the National Assembly and the M.P./employer could oppose their payment. Since 2002 all, with the exception of the child-minder’s benefit (which is still taken care of by the National Assembly’s budget) are attributed to the assistant allowance which has thus been re-indexed.
Since January 1, 2006, the assistants may receive a seniority bonus which takes into account that which they received from the same M.P. between June 12, 1997 and December 31, 2005 and a seniority bonus which takes into account that which they received, also from the same M.P., since January 1, 2004: the assistant allowance of each M.P. is increased to take into account the total amount of these bonuses.
Also since January 1, 2006, assistants fulfilling certain diploma conditions and/or seniority conditions may be granted the status of ‘cadre’ (manager) if they make a written request to their M.P./employer.
II. – THE WORK OF PARLIAMENTARY ASSISTANTS
The assistant plays the role that each M.P. assigns to him within the team that he has recruited. This situation makes it impossible to go beyond general observations when discussing the work of these assistants.
Certain M.P.s concentrate their team in their constituency, others in Paris and some divide their team between the National Assembly and their constituency. It could be noted that roughly speaking about two thirds of assistants work in constituencies and about one third at the Palais Bourbon.
The tasks they are assigned depend basically upon the needs of the M.P. and the abilities of the person recruited:
- Most assistants are assigned secretarial and support tasks, such as the keeping of the appointments diary, the arrangement of meetings, answering the telephone and support for a variety of material tasks.
- The most qualified assistants, with university degrees for example, help the M.P. in ways which directly deal with the carrying out of the M.P.’s function: speech-writing, preparation of Members’ bills and amendments, representation within the political group etc.