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Striking in France - what are the rules and do strikers get paid?

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Striking in France - what are the rules and do strikers get paid?
The right to strike is ensured by the French constitution. But do workers still get paid when striking?. Photo: AFP
10:24 CET+01:00
French workers do have something of a reputation for striking, but do they really do it more than any other European country? And can any disgruntled employee walk out?

Who can go on strike?

As a general rule, all French workers have the right to strike. The right to strike is guaranteed by the French Constitution. 

Although striking is an individual right, it needs to be exercised collectively by at least two employees as a means to further professional demands.

This means that one single employee cannot go on strike alone (except during national strikes) and that a strike cannot be used for political purposes.

Certain public sector workers are not allowed to strike, including:

  • Emergency services like certain types of police officers and emergency medics 
  • Judges
  • Army personnel (which includes firefighters in some areas)
  • Prison guards
  • Some civil servants in the Home Office (personnels des transmissions)

Do strikers get paid? 

Public sector workers lose 1/30th of their gross monthly salary for every day or partial day that they strike, so in effect they lose roughly a day's pay every time they strike.

For public sector workers - which includes SNCF employees and the Paris public transport system RATP - this also includes weekend days and holiday - so anyone striking from Monday to Monday would lose seven days pay, even if they did not normally work weekends.

The deduction is also made even if they employee does not strike for the full day.

The exception is hospital staff, who lose less (1/23th of their monthly salary) if they go on strike for just one hour.

The rules are different for private sector employees who generally lose their salaries the days they go on strike. 

During long-running strikes, unions often run a cagnotte - a pot or fund - which collects donations to give to striking workers who are suffering financial hardship. 


Nurses and hospital staff went on strike in September to call for a salary increase and better work conditions. Photo: AFP

Can only union members strike?

No. Anyone working in France can go on strike, but public sector strikes need to be declared by at least one union.

France is the country with the highest number of trade unions but the lowest percentage of union membership (around 8 percent compared to a European average of about 25 percent). 

As for strikes in the private sector unions don’t need to be involved at all.

Despite the low levels of union membership, French people do indeed strike more than their neighbours. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of French strike days was 125 per 1,000 employees, according to a study by the European Trade Union Institute. As a comparison, the UK, Germany and Sweden had 20, 17 and 3 respectively. 

What are the rules?

There are significant differences between the public and private sector when it comes to the legalities of striking. In both cases, violence is forbidden and strikers are required to respect non-strikers, meaning they are not allowed to prevent others from going to work. 

Private sector

In the private sector, a strike can be declared at any time, even in cases where workers have not attempted to reconcile with their employer. 

Employees are not obligated to alert their employer in advance. To declare a strike, they simply need to ‘collectively stop working and state a list of professional demands (about salaries, work conditions or other)’. This list needs to be given at the moment the strike begins.

Public sector strikes in France need to be declared by at least one union. Photo: AFP

Public sector

In the public sector, the general rule is that a written strike warning must be issued five days prior to the strike. This warning needs to state the motives for the strike as well as the start- and end date (if there is an end-date, if not that needs to be stated too).

Unions and management are required to negotiate during the five days following the strike warning.

Teachers

For strikes involving kindergarten or elementary school personnel, the rules are slightly stricter. Unions need to provide a written document stating the strikers’ demands as well as the persons participating in the strike, eight days prior to the strike.

After unions have notified the management they have to negotiate for three days before making a final decision on whether or not to strike. If the unions decide to continue with the strike, they need to provide a written document stating the motives for the strike and which schools will be affected, as well as when the strike will begin and end (if there is an end-date, if not that needs to be stated too).

Teachers need to tell their superiors whether or not they intend to strike 48 hours in advance.

Transport sector

The transport sector is subject to the strictest strike regulations. Following a 2008 law, trade unions and management need to consult for two weeks before any strike. Employees are legally obligated to give a 48-hour-notice if they intend to join a strike.

The law was made to enable transport companies better to inform passengers and to organise a minimum service ahead of a strike.

This is why rail operator SNCF has said it will publish revised strike timetables on December 3rd, two days ahead of the upcoming ‘unlimited’ strikes.

How long are workers allowed to keep the strike going?

There’s no legal limit to how short or long a strike can be. Everything from one hour to several weeks is allowed. Strikers may also do a method of on-and-off striking, for example working one day out of five for a certain period of time.

 
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