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VIDEO: Why are French firefighters and riot police in violent fistfights?

Firefighters and police banged heads in violent fistfights in Tuesday's latest eye-catching protest against the government's proposed pension reform.

VIDEO: Why are French firefighters and riot police in violent fistfights?
Firefighters on Tuesday's protest in Paris. Photo: AFP

Thousands of French firefighters took to the streets of Paris on Tuesday, igniting flares and even setting their protective jackets alight to to demand better working conditions.

Videos posted on Twitter showed police and firefighters clash in violent fistfights during a protest over pension reform and working conditions.

 

Dressed in sporting helmets and protective gear, the firefighters – who had travelled to the capital from outside Paris – marched from Republic Square to Nation Square, climbing onto the city's statues.

Some of the firefighters threw projectiles and police retorted with tear gas.

 

Some protesters blocked the main ring road of Paris but were dispersed, Paris police said on Twitter. Two people were arrested. 

The firefighters, who in France also respond to general emergency calls, were protesting against what they said were ever-worsening working conditions and limited resources.

“We are the final link in the chain of emergency aid in France and we are overwhelmed by call-outs,” said Frederic Perrin, head of the SPASDIS-CFTC union.

Among their demands were that staff levels be maintained and that they get to preserve their existing pension system.

They also asked that their salary premium for risk taking in the job be brought in line with that of the police.

“We need the staffing and means to respond to this and also a guarantee that we can concentrate on our core missions, emergency response, and not serve as a supplement to absent health services,” Perrin told AFP.

 

Unions representing the firefighters later called off the movement after what they said was a satisfactory response from the French government, which included an increase of their salary premium for risk taking.

 

Firefighters had been staging protests more for than six months over their pay and working conditions. Like other emergency services in France, they are banned from actually striking, but had staged a series of demonstrations.

They had also joined in widespread protests since early December over President Emmanuel Macron's controversial pension reform plans.

The mass strike action on Paris public transport and the railways have now fizzled out and transport is generally running as normal but the hardline unions have vowed not to give in.

READ ALSO OPINION France's winter of discontent may become a long, troubled and violent spring

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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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