France's EDF must renegotiate staff working hours, benefits -auditor
* EDF labour practices are out of date, state auditor says
* Cites "exorbitant" overtime, "complex mosaic" of pay deals
* Auditor criticised EDF staff pay and benefits in February
* Little progress seen before November's union elections
PARIS, 16 September (Reuters) - Electricity utility EDF's 100,000 staff must work more hours, and be more flexible about when they do so, to boost productivity, France's national auditor said on Monday.
French companies are trying to take advantage of labour law reforms passed in January, which give them more freedom to circumvent laws such as the 35-hour working week, though publicly controlled firms have been lagging.
At a time when French President Francois Hollande is trying to reduce the budget deficit, the extraordinary benefits and perks enjoyed by some public sector workers are under fire. EDF staff, for example, pay about 6 percent of what the general public is charged for electriticy.
Monday's report from the Cour des Comptes is an add-on to its annual review of public spending in February and builds on its criticism then of EDF and other state-controlled firms for weak labour oversight.
EDF's labour regulations are a "complex mosaic of local agreements" with different rules for different workers, a lack of control over the number of hours worked and "exorbitant" overtime arrangements, the audit body said.
The company's CGT trade union representative Laurent Langlart rejected the criticism, saying staff reduction at EDF forced workers to be available for long stretches of time and claim overtime pay when called out outside normal working hours.
"These accusations are unfair," said Langlart. "The Cour des Comptes is playing a political game by exposing us to public critique, when that's really not their role."
EDF, which is 84.4 percent state-owned, should start talks with its unions, the auditor said. EDF had started such talks, the CGT's Langlart said, but union elections in November prevented any major renegotiations this year.
EDF declined to comment.
The auditor's report in February said EDF had awarded over-generous pay rises between 2005 and 2010 and that staff enjoyed advantages with little relation to their performance. Work practices were out of date and based on a 1999 agreeement with the unions that favoured a transition towards the 32-hour week in order to create more jobs, it said.
In 2011, EDF staff worked 1,548 hours per year and staff at its high-voltage transmission unit RTE only 1,500 hours, the auditor said. Both are less than the 1,570 hour reference for the gas and electricity sector and less than the 1,607 hour national requirement in national labour law. (Reporting by Benjamin Mallet, Geert De Clercq and Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Louise Ireland)
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