Avignon’s famed arts festival was forced Friday to cancel its opening acts after workers went ahead with strike action in protest at government plans to change their unemployment benefits.
Festival director Olivier Puy told a press conference the two opening theatre pieces would not be performed after France's main entertainment union (CGT Spectacle) voted to press ahead with Friday's strike, despite an earlier ballot in which 80 percent of workers said the opening day should go ahead as scheduled.
It is a major blow to France’s oldest and most prestigious arts festival, which features theatre and opera performances and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe every year to the picturesque southern French city.
The industrial action focuses on long-standing anger at government plans to change the unemployment benefits system for part-timers working in the entertainment industry.
The approximate 100,000 casual festival workers have a special status under French law whereby they can draw unemployment benefits between jobs, which many argue creates an unaffordable drain on the country’s significant unemployment budget.
Although they only represent 3.5 percent of job-seekers, their unemployment compensation is two times higher than the French average and accounts for a quarter of the annual funding shortfall of four billion euros.
Threat to French culture?
But festival workers - known as “intermittents” - have long fought any change to their benefit payments which they argue are vital to supporting French culture. They also argue that the reforms agreed in March will make it impossible for many of them to eke out a living.
Under the reform agreed by a consortium of employers and some unions in March, festival-workers will have to pay more in social security contributions and many will have to wait longer after the end of each temporary job before they can receive benefits.
Sporadic strikes have already taken place in Paris and the southern city of Montepellier, causing cancellations of theatre and music events.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls has nominated an arbitrator to try to defuse the crisis.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-07-04