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EDUCATION

Teachers at French international schools around the world strike over cuts

Teachers at many of France's international schools, a symbol of French soft power around the world, went on strike Monday over planned cuts to budgets and staffing.

Teachers at French international schools around the world strike over cuts
File photo: French International School in Hong Kong/AFP
Paris has 492 schools in 137 foreign countries, catering to some 350,000 students including the children of elite business leaders and diplomats.
   
Teachers' unions are angry at government plans to slash 33 million euros ($39 million) from the network's annual budget as President Emmanuel Macron seeks to trim the deficit.
   
AFP correspondents reported strikes at schools from Beijing and New Delhi to Vienna, Athens, Nairobi and Tokyo.
   
Others were unaffected, including Lagos — where teachers said they had been unaware of the coordinated strike action — and Hong Kong, where most teachers are hired locally rather than on expat contracts.
   
Franck Pajot, a teacher in Beijing, said he and his colleagues feel “abandoned”.
 
“France's network of high schools abroad is 'excellence a la francaise',” he added, arguing that the cash was needed to maintain their international reputation.
 
Macron sings with children at the Lycee Francais International Georges Pompidou in Dubai. Photo: AFP    
 
Participation varied around the world, with more than three quarters of teachers downing their chalk in Beijing, 80 percent in Athens, and a third in Nairobi, according to staff and unions.
 
Unions have blasted the cutbacks as “drastic”,  representing nearly 10 percent of the current budget, and would result in 500 teachers' jobs being axed over three years.
   
Counting 60 percent of their students as foreign, international schools are seen as a key means by which France exports its language and culture.
   
Fees are often steep, and the worldwide network makes France's “lycees” or high schools a favoured choice among high-flying international parents who frequently move around.
   
France's Foreign Education Agency (AEFE), which runs the schools, refused to say how many teachers globally were taking part in the strike.
   
It said it was “doing its part” for government cost-cutting efforts and stressed that job cuts would not affect those already hired.
   
The schools are “a public service to our compatriots abroad, and a valuable tool of influence for our country”, the AEFE added.
   
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has guaranteed the agency's loans in 2018, while Macron has promised the credit will continue in 2019, the agency said.

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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