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Why are French firefighters protesting in the streets?

Professional firefighters in France have been holding a series of protests, which on Tuesday lead to violent clashes with police in Paris, but what's it all about?

Why are French firefighters protesting in the streets?
Photo: AFP
A demonstration in Paris and a attempt to block the périphérique ended in several violent clashes with police, who used tear gas, batons and water canons on the demonstrators. Three police officers were injured.
 
 
Although this is the frrst time it has turned violent, the protests have been going on for some months now.
 
In June seven unions, representing 85 percent of the professional firefighters of France, filed a notice with France's Interior Minister Christophe Castaner giving notice of industrial action.
 
The unions denounce a “lack of social dialogue” and “lack of response” during meetings which have been conducted since March 14th with Castaner and professional associations, as well France's Association of Mayors (AMF).
 
The unions are demanding the withdrawal of the civil service reforms, the upgrading of firefighters to the same level as other risky occupations, such as the police who receive a “risk bonus”, and “a massive recruitment drive”.
 
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Photo: AFP

Unions argue that the country's fire service is in higher demand than ever however it is has “fewer staff and fewer resources”. 
 
Added to this there is “more and more verbal and sometimes physical violence,” according to one union official.
 
“The public emergency service is sick. We want to alert the French,” said André Goretti, president of the FA – SPP-PATS, the largest union of professional firefighters.
 
 
“Maybe one day we will not be able to respond quickly enough to a victim of a heart attack, or the start of a fire. That day, we will not have ourselves to blame,” he said, adding there is a “deep malaise within the profession.”
 
France has around 250,000 firefighters of whom only 40,000 are professional. 
 
The threat of a national strike follows several months of small industrial action at individual barracks.  
 
However even if they declare themselves on strike, firefighters may be required to perform a minimum service, as “agents ensuring the functioning of services essential to the guarantee of people's physical security”.
 
This means that firefighters will be largely limited to demonstrating their support for the strike through banners and armbands however the unions have threatened that if the government does not respond to their demands there could be demonstrations. 
 
 The rest of France has civilian fire services organised, supervised and trained by the French Ministry of the Interior; who fall under the Civil Defence and Security Directorate (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Civile et de la Gestion de Crise, DGSCGC).

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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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