State worker suspended for exposing lazy staff
Published 02/07/2010 | 05:00
A FRENCH civil servant who lifted the lid on the wastefulness of the country's state sector in a book, describing a "five-hours-a-week" culture where people competed to take the longest coffee breaks, has been suspended.
Zoe Shepard, her pen name, confirmed France's worst fears about its "fonctionnaires" -- its 5.2 million civil servants -- in a book recounting how they compete to see who will hover longest at the coffee machine, draw up sick notes to stay weeks away from the office or while away the day on Facebook.
'In Absolument De-bor-de' ('Absolutely Snowed Under'), subtitled 'How to Make 35 hours Last a Month', nepotism is rife and taxpayers' money wasted, with one local civil servant even signing off his visit to a prostitute as "travel expenses".
After eight years studying in France's top administrative schools, Miss Shepard was taken on as a high-grade civil servant in French local government. She said she was raring to put her knowledge to public use but soon realised her remit was to do as little as possible in the greatest amount of time.
Upon arrival, her boss gave her a week to write a precis of a few sheets of paper. "Is this some kind of joke?" she asked.
"It's a tough assignment I know," he replied. "Listen, you can have until the middle of next week if you can't finish it," he added. One-and-a-half-hours later, she had completed the task.
"The first weeks, I was looking for the (hidden) cameras; surely all this was a joke. Six months later ... I accepted the sad reality: I am a little cog in an absurd universe," she wrote.
She said she was working five-hour weeks for a €36,389 annual salary.
One day she asked her superior if her document could be validated by the relevant service, but was told this would not be possible as staff numbers had dropped "by five". Some people never turned up to work, occupying "fictitious posts" and pocketing the wages, she claimed.
The 32-year-old said that 90pc of what she wrote was based on fact, but she was careful to change names to ones like "Coconne" (Dumbo), or "Simplet" (Dopey).
However, her colleagues at the Aquitaine Regional Council in southwest France, clearly recognised themselves -- lending weight to her claims that little of what she wrote was exaggerated -- and she was unmasked. Miss Shepard had been working at Aquitaine's International and European Affairs Delegation, which employs 30 people to do, she claims, little more than twiddle their thumbs.
But her book sparked fury from the Socialist-run regional council, which said it put "the entire credibility and honour of the region at stake". On Thursday its disciplinary committee decided to ban her from holding a civil service job for two years. (© Daily Telegraph, London)