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ANALYSIS: Will there be strikes during the Paris Olympics?

AFP/The Local France
AFP/The Local France - [email protected]
ANALYSIS: Will there be strikes 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

It's the often-repeated joke that if striking were an Olympic sport, France would be world champions. But as Paris prepares to host the 2024 Games, what is the likelihood of strikes or protests disrupting the event?

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"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 start 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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Police officers will now be given a €1,900 bonus this summer, after their unions held days of protests and 'go slow' actions late in January.

"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 are also underway between French authorities and health workers, drivers for Paris Metros, trains and buses, as well as municipal employees such as street cleaners.

Deals

In September last year a deal was reached with the largest union representing French air traffic controllers, who have now pledged not to strike until the Games are over (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.

Although the largest union representing air traffic controllers has declared a strike truce, smaller unions are still in dispute with the government. Their argument is not just about pay, they are also upset about changes to minimum service rules.

Meanwhile the hard-left 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.

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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