French teachers’ strike fails to gain support

The French Education Ministry has said that only 1.15 percent of primary school teachers and 2.18 percent of secondary school teachers have joined the strike on Thursday.

A French protester wears a floral garland in reference the Education Minister's holiday in Ibiza.
A French protester wears a floral garland in reference the Education Minister's holiday in Ibiza. Turnout for Thursday's teachers' strike appears to have been limited. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

Teachers’ unions across France had asked their members to strike on Thursday, in protest at the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic in schools, but it seems that most teachers remained at work.

It comes exactly one week after nationwide strikes that saw 75 percent of primary school teachers absent from their posts according to unions – or 38 percent according the the Education Ministry.

The French Education Ministry has said that only 1.15 percent of primary school teachers and 2.18 percent of secondary school teachers have joined Thursday’s strike. Most schools across the country have remained open. 

A spokesperson for SNUipp-FSU, the largest primary school teaching union who led last week’s strikes, told The Local that they didn’t know how many people had answered the call to strike.

“The idea today is to maintain pressure with localised protests, before a new call to strike on January 27th,” said Guislaine David, the organisation’s general secretary, in an interview with AFP.  

Teachers are frustrated at the government’s repeated changes to Covid protocol in schools and lack of communication. 

Their anger grew further this week when it emerged that the French Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, had instigated a significant overhaul of Covid rules on the last day of the Christmas holidays, while on vacation in Ibiza. 

READ MORE What links French teachers’ Covid strike with Ibiza? 

An eye-catching demonstration on Wednesday evening outside the Education Ministry saw protestors parody the situation, dancing in bikinis to balearic house music as a man dressed in a suit (pretending to be Blanquer) shuffles awkwardly. 

The unions want the government to provide extra face masks for staff, including the more protective FFP2 masks, pay rises and CO2 monitors to check if classrooms are sufficiently ventilated. Some are calling for a return to the rule whereby classes are closed after a pupil tests positive. Others are calling for Blanquer to resign. 

Last week teaching unions won a number of concessions. 

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

Even before the week’s strike took place, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced a simplification of health measures, meaning that three negative self-tests are all that is required for a child to return to school after becoming a contact case. 

After the strike, the government announced that schools will receive 5 million FFP2 masks and that it would recruit thousands of substitute teachers to help deal with the pandemic.

Further strikes are planned for January 27th. 

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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.