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Nationwide strikes in France: Who is joining in and what are their grievances?

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Nationwide strikes in France: Who is joining in and what are their grievances?
The December strike is shaping up to be a major confrontation. Photos: AFP
13:06 CET+01:00
The 'unlimited' strikes in France starting from December 5th is shaping up to be a major confrontation as more and more unions announce they are joining. We take a look at who is involved.

The protest is over plans to reform the French pension system. This obviously affects everyone in France, but the people who feel they have most to lose are public sector workers, many of whom stand to lose the 'special regimes' they have negotiated over the years which give them higher pensions and the right to retire early.

READ ALSO 'Unlimited' December strikes in France, what you need to know

The strike starts on December 5th and while some unions are aiming for a one-day action, others say they will be taking 'unlimited' action throughout December, so the disruption could continue for some weeks. It's even being reported that French president Emmanuel Macron has rescheduled several foreign trips he had planned for December in order to be here and deal with any potential trouble.

Here are the groups that have signed up to far:

Rail workers

The four main rail unions have all signed up, meaning the majority of the rail network across France will be affected by the strike action. Their strike announcements give notice of 'renewable' strikes which could go on beyond December 5th.

At the stage it's not possible to say how much this will disrupt services, except to say it will be significant. SNCF says it will be able to publish revised strike timetables, showing how many services will run, on December 3rd.

Paris public transport workers

The six unions that represent employees of RATP - which runs the Paris Metro, bus, tram and RER network - have all signed up to renewable strike action. These same six staged a one-day strike in September that brought the city's public transport to a virtual standstill.

READ ALSO France's December strikes 'Expect major disruption that could last until the New Year'

Other cities' public transport workers

The CGT and FO unions which represent public transport drivers across France have given notice of strike action in Lyon, Montpellier and Bordeaux, and it is expected more will follow. 

Air France ground crew

One union representing ground crew - FO Air France - has joined unlimited strike action. The other main union for Air France ground crew - CGT Air France - has so far not issued a strike notice, but CGT members in other industries have joined, so it is expected that their ground crew will follow suit. Several airports are expected to experience delayed or cancelled flights.

Hauliers

FO Transports et Logistique, which represents some truck drivers - has joined the strike. They don't represent all hauliers by any means, but when French hauliers strike they frequently stage blockades or rolling roadblocks, so there may well be some disruption on the roads.

Teachers

The two biggest teaching unions have both joined the strike, with one telling The Local they will "stay on the streets if necessary" after December 5th to continue their protest. This will obviously be disruptive to education and could lead to some parents being forcd to find alternative childcare arrangements. Some French schools offer a daycare service - with no teaching - when teachers are on strike, but not all have the staffing levels to be able to do so and so close altogether.

Civil Servants

The FSU union representing civil servants has joined the strike, although they do not represent all fonctionnaires. Expect some government offices to be closed and others to be operating with a reduced staffing level on December 5th. Some lawyers and judges will also be joining in, plus employees of the electricity company EDF.

Protests

As well as people staging walk-outs from their work, there will also be several protests on December 5th, some from employees who are barred from striking but want to make their feelings known.

Police

Most types of French police officers are not allowed to strike, but the several police unions including Alliance and Unsa have said they will join the action on December 5th, which is likely to involve staging demonstrations at police stations.

Hospital staff

Also banned from striking are emergency medical staff, but unions representing them say their members will be "on the streets" on December 5th, which will likely involve protests and demonstrations from off-duty medical staff.

They are already involved in an ongoing dispute with the government over pay and working conditions.

Yellow vests

Some yellow vest leaders say they plan to join in the "day of anger" on December 5th and will stage demonstrations. Exactly what impact this will have is hard to say as the numbers turning out on 'yellow vest' protests have been dwindling sharply in recent months, but if some of the radical elements who joined in demonstrations on the anniversary weekend of November 17th turn up then there could be violent scenes.

What are their grievances?

The strike is over French president Emmanuel Macron's plans to reform the French pension system.

The current system has 42 different pension regimes and Macron wants to simplify it to create one single, universal system that applies to both public and private sector workers.

READ ALSO ANALYSIS What you need to know to understand why pension reform sells trouble in France

This would do away with many of the 'special regimes' that public sector workers enjoy, which give them enhanced pensions and extra rights such as the right to retire earlier than the French legal retirement age of 62.

Many public sector workers consider their generous pensions as recompense for the lower salaries than those on offer in the private sector. The regimes have also been negotiated over the years to compensate for anti-social working conditions such as shift work or - for example in the case of Metro drivers who can retire at 55 - working in polluted or uncomfortable conditions.

Some of the workers have other grievances as well, for example teachers have long complained about their low pay when compared with European counterparts and hospital and police staff have reported very difficult working conditions and low morale.

 

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