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ANALYSIS: How likely is strike chaos during the Paris Olympics?

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AFP/The Local France - [email protected]
ANALYSIS: How likely is strike chaos during the Paris Olympics?
French police union 'Unite SGP police-FO' take part in a protest demanding extra bonuses for work during the Paris Olympics. Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP

With Paris waste collectors the latest to threaten a strike during the Olympics - raising the prospects of piles of stinking rubbish across the capital - what is the likelihood of serious strike disruption during the Games?

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It's the often-repeated joke that if striking were an Olympic sport, France would be world champions.

But will any of the threatened actions actually come to pass? Or is just a high-stakes negotiating tactic?

"The Olympics are a double-edged sword for the image of a country," communications expert Philippe Moreau Chevrolet, who founded the Paris-based MCBG Conseil PR agency, told AFP.

A major security problem or disruption can wipe out any benefits of playing host, he explained.

"The strikes, riots and Yellow Vests created a poor image of France as a destination," he added. "If it calms down for the Olympics, it could be a good way of repairing what has been damaged."

Public sector negotiations

It's unlikely that the risk of reputation damage has not occurred to both the French government and French unions, which is why the first half of 2024 has seen authorities scrambling to agree pay deals with a host of public sector workers.

Meanwhile unions, well aware of the power of the Olympics as a bargaining tool, have been using the threat of disruption during the Games to secure large bonuses for their workers.

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The CGT union, which represents some of the capital's waste collectors, on Thursday filed strike notices that cover the entire Games period (July, August and September) - if their members do not get a €1,900 Olympic bonus.

Likewise rail unions have called a one-day strike in May, also in pursuit of a bonus. Negotiations are ongoing.

Earlier in the year, police unions held days of protests and 'go slow' actions late in January - and won a bonus for their members.

"For an exceptional event, exceptional measures," the Alliance union wrote in a statement that explained how unions were demanding up to €2,000 for their members in compensation for lost holidays and extra work over the summer Games." The government quickly caved and gave officers €1,900 each.

The Interior Ministry has a fund for the Games of around €500 million for the security forces, sources close to the negotiations told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Pay negotiations have also secured bonuses for health workers, drivers for Paris Metros, trains and buses, as well as municipal employees.

Meanwhile the hardline CGT union has rejected the idea of an 'Olympic truce' and filed a strike notice covering April 15th to September 15th, which would allow them to call strikes during the Games period - although those actions are mainly centred on public sector workers and healthcare works, so probably won't have a lot of direct impact on Games visitors. 

Deals

In September 2023 a deal was reached with the largest union representing French air traffic controllers, who have now pledged not to strike over the Games period (although smaller unions are continue to insist on their right to strike).

Meanwhile staff in the Channel Tunnel also received a hefty bonus (reportedly around €3,000) after staging a surprise strike just before Christmas, which halted all traffic (Le Shuttle and Eurostar) through the tunnel. Bosses were under pressure to settle before Christmas, but the unions were also flexing their muscles ahead of the Games.

Holidays during the Games have been banned for many state employees, while extra weekend and late-night work will be demanded for tens of thousands of them.

"It's being dealt with ministry by ministry, taking into the account the status and requirements for each profession," Michel Cadot, who heads the government's Games coordination committee, told a Senate hearing.

He told the hearing that the overall budget for the Games remained unknown in part because the government could not anticipate how much it would need to spend in bonuses for public sector workers.

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Around 30,000 police officers are expected to be on duty during the Games which will take place at what is usually the peak of the summer holiday period in France.

Threats 

But not everything is settled. The CGT union has denounced the government suspending the right to a weekend break during the Games for some workers.

Unless the government reverses its decree, "we will launch high-impact operations during the Games. We'll go on strike wherever it is possible," said Amar Lagha, the head of the CGT's branch representing the private-sector service industry and retail workers.

The CGT is also behind the waste collectors' strike threat - although strikes from waste collectors can undoubtedly create huge disruption and unsightly piles of stinking rubbish on the streets - the CGT represents only a small percentage of the city's employees.

Last summer's Rugby World Cup, which many saw as a 'rehearsal' for the Olympics passed off without serious disruption, despite strike threats from Paris public transport workers ahead of several matches. 

You can follow the latest on strike action, and any disruption caused, in our strike section HERE meanwhile anyone visiting Paris during the Games can find practical information on HERE.

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