French teaching unions call for more school strikes

Teachers' unions in France are calling for renewed strikes on Thursday in response to the government's handling of the Covid pandemic in schools. Strike action last week saw many schools across the country close.

A French  protestor holds a sign calling for the Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, to resign.
A French protestor holds a sign calling for the Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, to resign. Further strikes are planned this week and next week.(Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

France’s education unions are calling for strikes on Thursday, January 20th, exactly one week after strikes closed down schools across the country. 

“We need to go further to be able to work in an environment that is safe for pupils as well as adults,” said Sophie Venetita, the general secretary of the SNES-FSU union, in an interview with Europe1 on Sunday. 

Unions claimed that 75 percent of primary school teachers and 62 percent of middle school and high school teachers went on strike last week – the government said that only 38 percent of teachers across the country were striking. 

READ MORE Why are France’s teachers going on strike over Covid rules?

Following the most recent strike, the government promised to provide 5 million of the high-spec FFP2 masks to schools and the deployment of thousands of substitute teachers through to the end of the year. 

The unions themselves see this as a victory but say they need further concessions. 

In a communiqué published on twitter, the SNES-FSU branch in Seine-Saint-Denis, just outside of Paris, called for the following actions to be taken immediately: 

  • The return of class closures if one pupil tests positive;
  • Investment in anti-bacterial gel and CO2 captors to test air quality;
  • The cancellation or delay of exams; 
  • A massive recruitment drive for more teachers;
  • Salary increases.  

This union branch said: “On Monday, we haven’t seen anything concrete in our schools and establishments”. 

“We plan on maintaining the pressure to achieve real advances”. 

As with the last strikes, not all of the unions are agreed on what they want. Some are not calling for the return of the “one positive case = class closure” rule. Others want the Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, to resign. 

Further strikes are planned on January 27th. In a joint communiqué, a number of education unions said that this strike would be “massive”. They will form part of wider public and private sector strikes on that day against “austerity measures from the government and bosses.” 

The strikes come at an awkward time for French President Emmanuel Macron, who is yet to announce his intention to stand for re-election in April – but is widely tipped to do so. 

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Strike to ‘strongly disturb’ Parisian bus and tram services on Monday

Strikes over working conditions means that bus and tram lines in the French capital will be running at 60 percent capacity on Monday, with further disruption expected later in the week.

Strike to 'strongly disturb' Parisian bus and tram services on Monday

A fresh wave of strikes at the RATP – the company responsible for operating public transport in Paris – will result in widespread disruption on Monday. 

While Metro and RER services will run as normal, bus and tram services will operate at a significantly reduced capacity. 

In a notice to passengers published on Sunday evening, the RATP said that some bus lines would be closed completely. Only two out of three buses will run on the lines that remain open during the daytime. The night bus service will run as normal. 

On average, three out of five trams will run on Monday. 

Normal traffic is expected on tramlines T5, T6 and T7. 

On T1, only one out of two trams will run, with a ten minute interval between each shuttle. The line will only run between Gare de Noisy and Gare de Gennevilliers. Operation times are limited to 06:00-11:00 and 15h:00-20:00. 

On T2, only one out of two trams will run during rush hour. The line will connect Porte de Versailles and Puteaux with shuttles running every ten minutes during rush hour and every 20 minutes outside of this. Between Pont de Bezons and Charlebourg, shuttles will run every five minutes during rush hour and every fifteen minutes outside of this. 

T3a will operate one out of every two trams, exclusively between Pont du Garigliano and Porte d’Italie. The line will run from 06:30-11:00 and 16:30-21:00. 

T3b will operate half of all trams, exclusively between Porte de Vincennes and Porte de la Chapelle. Traffic will only run from 06:00-10:30 and 15:30-20:00. 

The T8 line is by far the most disrupted with only one in every four trams running. The line will only operate between Saint-Denis – Porte de Paris et Epinay–Orgemont. Trams will run between 06:00-10:00 and 16:00-20:00. 

Further strike action is expected on Wednesday, although RATP are yet to disclose the scale of that later disruption. 

What is behind the strikes? 

Bus and tram workers are striking over proposed plans to open up RATP services to subsidiary companies, with changes to working conditions.

As of January 1st, 2025, all bus will be transferred to the subsidiaries or competing companies who won bids issued by the regional transport authority, Île-de-France Mobilités. 

RATP plans to put the new working conditions into effect – those that would have been set to apply in 2025 – as early as July. These changes would impact at least 18,000 drivers. 

Specifically, drivers will fall under the “territorial social framework” (CST), the minimum legal framework for working hours, which will require 35 hours of work per week (and 37 hours per week for select drivers). Currently, the RATP’s rules regarding working hours are more advantageous, with the average driver working 33 hours a week (excluding overtime and travel time). 

Union management has been fighting against these proposed changes for over a year, having already held a strike March 25th, which impacted over 30 percent of bus lines in the Paris region.

Now, they calling for mobilisation to “defend their working conditions” again.