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British fonctionnaires can keep their jobs

There is good news for British teachers and others who are fonctionnaires in France as the government and MPs have backed an amendment to the new Brexit law to allow them to keep this special status afterwards.

This status is normally – by a law called the Loi le Pors – reserved for French and EU/EEA citizens.

When we speak of a fonctionnaire, technically this refers to a fonctionnaire titulaire – a person who works in la fonction publique (public service), with a special civil servant status.

It applies to 1,715 Britons out of a total 5,115 working for the national state, local government or public hospitals. Many of them teach English in state schools and private ones under contract.

Britons in hundreds of other professions, such as nurses, psychologists and hospital managers, are potentially affected by the loss of the status too.

A titulaire has high job security and a clearly-defined pay structure based on seniority and time in the post.

Other public sector workers are contractuels, on less secure work contracts with a salary which is, in theory, negotiated with the employer, who is meant to consider qualifications and experience. In practice, it is often “take it or leave it”. They sometimes take exams to ‘titularise’.

The French Brexit law gives the government powers to sort out problems that would arise if there is no-deal, but a Foreign Affairs Ministry source said the same would apply if there is a deal.

It would not apply to Bri­tons coming to France in future, but the law says it would cover those already working as fonctionnaires, plus stagiaires in a first year after taking fonctionnaire exams.

The Brexit law says the government should aim to take measures to maintain the ‘“conditions of status and employment they have now” and “without any barriers linked to nationality”.

Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau previously said British titulaires would not be able to remain so “by definition” and it had been thought they would have to move – where possible – to contractuel contracts.

These are often temporary, but even where they are not, they are considered less secure. Some senior public sector posts may not be held by contractuels.

The law has now been voted through by MPs before going to a mixed senators’ and MPs’ committee for final review. No significant changes were expected.

Germany has also passed a law to protect its equivalent workers.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry source said: “The take-home on this is that the government’s position has evolved and it supports Britons being able to maintain the status of French fonctionnaires.”

An Interior Ministry spokesman said the expected effect is protection for those with the status before Brexit, in the case of no-deal, or before the end of the transition period if there is a deal.It had previously been feared that, due to France’s strict rules, the fonctionnaires might lose the status, with or without a deal.

On the other side of the Channel the issue is less significant as there are few comparable posts that can be held only by a British or EU citizen.

Melanie Hills (pictured left), a single mother of two who teaches English in a higher education engineering school in  Haute-Pyrénées said: “This is really good news. Fingers crossed it goes through.

“Nobody would accept moving to be a contractuel.

To work very hard to have this status and then have it taken away would be a disaster – hopefully, now it won’t come to that.”

She has been trying to apply for French nationality but it is proving difficult. She is also concerned it may be too late before Brexit or the end of the transition period.

Ms Hills, 51, said she worked as a contractuel before passing a CAPES French teaching qualification, a masters degree, and written and oral exams to become a stagiaire, then the one year’s experience to ‘titularise’. “You can imagine how it felt to be told ‘you can be a contractuel’ – you work all these years and think you have a job for life, then have to go back to square one.”

She said job insecurity is part of the problem. “I live in a rural area and there are a lot of contractuel teachers. I’d probably have been like them, running round looking for bits of work.

“There are very few who have a CDI [permanent contract]. Plus my salary would go down – in theory, a contractuel salary is negotiable, but in reality you get what you get, and if you’re not happy, there are plenty of others looking for work.”

One kind of public service work that cannot be done by a contractuel is being agrégé, a highly-qualified subject teacher. One reader, who asked to be anonymous, said her son had just passed the exam for this. “What a nightmare if, after seven years of study, he is told he can’t take up the job he’s worked so hard for,” she said.

Another reader, working in an allied health profession in a hospital, said she had been planning to ‘titularise’ but Brexit might take away the possibility.

She said: “As a contractuel, the pension is slightly less generous but also the big thing is that for titulaires, if their job disappears, they’re offered another elsewhere, and if they move to another area they are prioritised for vacancies. Whereas if I had to move, I would have to compete for a job.

“For the titulaires, a lot of job progression happens via internal competitions and even someone without the baccalauréat can do well – but if they lost the status, they could then find themselves a contractuel with no transferable qualifications.”

Another reader said he feared changing status could have halved his salary. “There is no way I would accept the humiliation. I would walk away,” he said.

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