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What to expect from strike action in France during the February school holidays

The Local France
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What to expect from strike action in France during the February school holidays
A demonstrator holds a placard during a rally called by French trade unions in Lille, northern France (Photo by Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP)

Several French unions have filed strike notices for February, with some aiming to target to busy February holiday period - here's what you can expect.

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France is in the grip of a major confrontation between unions and the government over plans to reform the pension system.

So far, the main actions have been concentrated on one-day strikes that are supported by all eight of the union federations, however an increasing number of unions are filing notices for renewable or unlimited strikes, with some targeting the February holidays.

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The French minister of tourism, Olivia Gregoire, called on unions to respect the "sacred period" of school holidays (which in France run from February 4th to March 6th, depending on which zone you are in).

Meanwhile, Philippe Martinez, the head of the hardline CGT union, told RTL that if the government remains stubborn then "there is a possibility of days of action during the school vacations".

As a result, it is likely that further notices will be filed. The Local will update this story with the latest - but here's what we know so far.

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February actions

February 16th – the fifth day of widespread strike action, which will likely see widespread disruption on public services, as well as demos in towns and cities across France. This action is supported by all eight French union federations. After this date, unions have also called for further actions in March, specifically on Tuesday, March 7th (which is after French school holidays will have concluded).

February 14th – not actually related to the pension plans – this is a separate dispute over pay and investment – but GPs will walk out on Tuesday, February 14th, leading to many surgeries closing completely. 

February 11th - France's largest trade unions have issued a joint statement calling for mobilisation on Saturday, the 11th.

This will coincide with the second weekend of school holidays for French students in Zone A, and the first weekend for students in Zone B. 

However, according to reporting by AFP, Saturday’s day of action will not involve a strike on French national rail services – meaning trains operated by SNCF are expected to run normally on the 11th.

Trains - two rail unions - the hardline Sud-Rail and CGT-Cheminots - have filed a renewable strike notice for "mid-February" in addition to a two-day strike which is to take place on Tuesday, February 7th, and Wednesday, and 8th. 

READ MORE: Calendar: The French pension strike dates to remember

Ski resorts - two of the largest unions representing French ski lift operators and seasonal workers, FO (Force ouvrière) and the CGT, have filed “unlimited” strike notices starting on January 31st – the same day that unions across other sectors have called for another ‘mass strike’.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the strike will continue throughout February, but unions say they want to put pressure on the government to discuss both pensions and changes to benefits for seasonal workers, which particularly affect ski industry employees.

The CGT union in particular has threatened further actions during the Ski World Championships, held in Courchevel from February 6th to February 19th. Strikes in ski resorts usually primarily affect the operation of ski lifts. You can read more here.

Oil refinery workers - refinery workers have threatened to renew strike action if needed. Most recently, oil refinery workers walked out for a period of 72 hours that began on February 6th. 

READ MORE: Reader question: Will pension strikes affect fuel supplies in France?

Power cuts - the hardline CGT have also threatened more "direct action" with employees of the State electricity sector threatening to cut the power to certain towns. This isn't a scheduled action (or indeed a legal one, the government has promised to prosecute workers who do this) but short targeted power cuts could continue into February.

We will update this story as more details are released, and you can also find all the latest in our strike section HERE.

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