Telling it like it is

Jul 02 2010 by Brian Amble Print This Article

If you fancy working five hours a week for a salary of 36,000 euros ($52,700) a year, it seems that what you need is a job in the French public sector. Because according to a book that's been causing quite a stir in France, doing almost nothing has been elevated to an art form among the country's five million civil servants, who between them consume 56 per cent of France's total budget.

The book, Absolument debordee (Absolutely Snowed Under), recounts the working life of 32-year old "Zoe Shepard" - her nom de plume - in French local government (as it emerged later, actually in the region of Aquitaine's International and European Affairs Delegation).

As The Australian recounts, friends and relations of councillors and high-ranking council officers were often recruited and given a glamorous title of chef de mission (head of mission). "But in fact the posts are hollow. The job is fictitious, there's nothing to do and they spend their days on Facebook."

On one occasion, Ms Shepard's manager complained that she had produced a report using the wrong typeface. The rectification on her computer required two clicks on a mouse - but he gave her until the Friday to complete the task.

It sounds as if all concerned have taken to heart a French bestseller of a few years ago, Corinne Maier's "Bonjour Paresse" (Hello Laziness - The Art and the Importance of Doing the Least Possible at the Workplace), which argued - among other things - that since what you at work is pointless and you can be replaced by anyone sitting next to you, work as little as possible and spend time (but not too much) cultivating your network so that you're untouchable when the next restructuring comes around....

Meanwhile, Ms Shepard (who has been unmasked as Aurélie Boulet) was banned this week by the Region's disciplinary committee from holding a civil service job for two years because the book "damages our image and the honour of our staff".

But as many in the French press have pointed out, nothing in the book identified where or for whom she worked. Instead, it seems, it was all rather too close to the bone for the socialist-run regional council and its legions of untouchable "fonctionnaires" who, as one newspaper put it, "have roused themselves to get rid of the traitor in their midst".

"The image you have of the French civil service is not a caricature. There is an enormous amount of waste. It's scandalous. But when you denounce this waste you lose your job," the author said defiantly.

Still, Ms Shepard / Boulet probably need not worry too much about not being able to work in the public sector for two years. According the regional Sud Ouest newspaper, the book has struck a chord with the public and sold out completely in shops in Bordeaux. Could a sequel be in the offing?