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Strikes in France: A guide to navigating transport, childcare and more

Jacques Demarathon, AFP | People carry a banner reading “Against Macron’s social war! Strikes, blockades, resistance!” during a protest in Paris on December 20, 2017

Spring is officially here, and with it comes the start of strike season in France. With workers across the country set to walk out on Thursday, here is a brief rundown of which services will be affected and tips on how to survive the madness.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, France is the country with the second-highest number of days not worked due to industrial action in Europe, bested only by Cyprus, according to the European Trade Union Institute.

Yet despite the regularity of strikes in France, navigating disrupted services can be stressful for even the most experienced of locals. To make life easier, here’s a guide to Thursday’s strikes, as well as a few tips on how to survive.

Who’s striking?

A total of seven trade unions have called on public sector employees across the country to strike on Thursday, including school and hospital staff, civil servants, air traffic controllers and Paris metro (RATP) workers.

The strikes are in protest against a range of issues, from low wages to union fears President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the public sector will leave it in ruins. His government has pledged to cut 120,000 public jobs, and has also floated the possibility of voluntary redundancies.

The national rail operator, SNCF, has also decided to join in on the action. Just last week the government backed fast-tracking a bill through parliament that would trim SNCF employment benefits, including lifetime contracts for new hires and removing early retirement provisions. If passed, it would be the most significant overhaul the company has seen since France’s railways were nationalised during the 1930s.

Which services will be disrupted?

  • Transportation

The government is bracing for travel chaos on Thursday, with Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne warning, “There will ultimately be serious disruption tomorrow."

National rail services will be severely impacted, with traffic almost halved. International rail travel will also be hit, with three out of four trains running.

In Paris, public transport will operate almost as normal. Regional trains, including the RER B (which connects the city to its main airport, Roissy Charles de Gaulle or CDG), will be impacted the most by the strike, with an average of three out of four trains running.

Air traffic will also be disrupted on Thursday, with around 30 percent of flights cancelled in and out of Paris’s three main airports (CDG, Orly and Beauvais).

  • Schools

The SNUipp-FSU, the country’s leading union for nursery and primary schools, estimates that around 25 percent of childcare professionals will strike on Thursday, while Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer warned of “limited” disruption. A number of daycare centres (or crêches in French) will also be closed.

  • Hospitals

Staff at hospitals across the country plan to strike on Thursday, with several emergency rooms expected to be impacted.

In addition to the work stoppages, more than 140 demonstrations have been planned in cities and towns nationwide to protest against economic reforms. The largest will be held at the symbolic Place de la Bastille in Paris, and is expected to draw as many as 25,000 people.

How long will it last?

The good news: The public service strike is only scheduled to last from Thursday to Friday morning.

The bad news: There is more to come. SNCF has announced rolling strikes starting April 3, which will see traffic disrupted two days a week over the course of three months.


Tips to survive…

If your daycare is closed, check with your employer to see if they partner with an emergency daycare. Otherwise, there are numerous babysitting apps (Happysitters, Babysittor, etc.) that can help in a real pinch.

If in Paris, it’s probably best to steer clear of public transportation on Thursday. One alternative is renting a bike - the city is home to a number of share services, such as Velib’, oBike and Ofo. If you don’t have far to go, walking is also a great option.

Protest routes should also be avoided. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck in gridlock traffic caused by a slowly moving march.

Make sure your phone is charged before you leave the house in case you need to research an alternative route, make an emergency call to warn someone you’re going to be late, or just want to use it to kill time while waiting for your train.

Come equipped with entertainment. Whether it be a book, a magazine, a video game or your favourite playlist, it could get you through the long commute from point A to point B.


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