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French teachers strike to defend four-day week

French Primary school teachers went on strike across the country on Tuesday to protest against government plans to extend their working week by half-a-day to four and a half days.

French teachers strike to defend four-day week
File photo of a school that remained closed in Paris last month as teachers protested over an extension to the working week. Photo: The Local.

Classrooms were closed across France, as teachers angry over government plans to open schools for an extra half a day a week, staged a nationwide walk out.

Unions claim 60 percent of teachers have taken part in the strike but the Ministry of Education says the figure is more like 36.8 percent. 

Tuesday's strike follows similar action taken by teachers in Paris last month.

Education minister Vincent Peillon has angered the teaching profession in France by proposing to extend the school timetable by half a day each week from September 2013.

Teachers are concerned the extra half day will simply add to their already overburdened workload and is being rushed through before members of staff can be recruited.

Currently in France primary schools are closed on Wednesdays but the socialist government wants children to start attending classes on Wednesday morning in the future for 'extra-curricular activities'. In return the length of the full teaching day will be slightly shortened.

“We need to inform the French people that one week of 4.5 days is better for learning than 4 days of more than five hours of classes,” the education minister told Le Parisien. “It will allow children to undertake more sporting and cultural activities.

“We cannot continue to be the only country in the world where our students attend school only 144 days a year,” Peillon added.

Schools shut or operating 'minimum service'

In the capital, where 70 percent of teachers reportedly joined Tuesday's walk-out, 229 schools were closed today.  Another 570 schools, which were without 25 percent or more of their usual staff were operating on a "minimum service" according to French daily Le Parisien.

The minimum service , known as the SMA (service minimum d’acceuil) is a legal requirement by local authorities to hire substitute teachers or child-care professionals to cover  when 25 percent or more teachers are on strike.

The law, introduced in 2008, is intended to allow a bare minimum of certain public services – in education, public transport or healthcare.

However, some view SMA as a breach of France’s constitutional right to strike, and many mayors have refused to put in place a back-up plan.

“This law is scandalous,” said Pierre Bosino, communist mayor of Montataire in northern France. “If teachers go on strike, it’s to defend our children’s education, and everyone must be in solidarity,” he told Le Parisien.

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STRIKES

French customs officers strike over job cuts

Customs officers across France will walk out on Thursday in protest at job cuts that unions say will “weaken the customs network”.

French customs officers strike over job cuts

The national strike on Thursday, March 10th is expected to lead to delays at ports, airports and on the Eurostar.

The strike, which will include a rally outside the National Assembly building in Paris, was called by the CFDT-Douane and has the support of other unions. 

A work-to-rule protest over pay and conditions by customs officers in 2019, under the shadow of Brexit, led to delays and disruption at airports, as well as ports including Calais and Dunkirk, and on Eurostar trains.

Unions are calling on the government to axe plans to switch responsibility for import duty collection to the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques by 2024, at the cost of 700 customs’ officer jobs – and, according to strikers, tens of billions of euros to State coffers.

“We are asking for the reforms to be stopped, mainly that of the transfer of taxation, which is disorganising the network with the elimination of nearly a thousand jobs,” CFDT-Douane’s secretary general David-Olivier Caron said.

The planned job cuts come after years of restructuring and streamlining that has seen thousands of positions disappear, the unions say, when customs fraud and smuggling is rising because of a lack of resources.

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