French civil servants strike over proposed controversial new status

Boris Horvat, AFP | Workers march against a government bill supposed to "modernise" the status of civil servants on May 9, 2019 in Marseille.

French civil servants protested on Thursday against a proposed government bill supposed to “modernise” their status. The National Assembly is scheduled to examine the bill on May 13.


The government’s divisive reform aims to facilitate the use of ‘contract workers’ to make the state more reactive to short-term employee problems (for example, staff shortages). The proposals are set to be examined by the Council of Ministers on March 27.

The proposed legislation is part of a target to eliminate 120,000 jobs by 2022, as a solution to Yellow Vest demands for tax reductions.

Unions argue that ‘contract staff’ (which in Anglophone countries is somewhat similar to ‘freelance’ workers) will not have the same rights and in some cases will not be correctly trained.

According to Francette Popineau, secretary general of Snuipp-FSU (one of the key primary school unions), teachers are particularly concerned about their future.

Many hospital staff are also deeply concerned, with Patrick Bourdillon of the CGT Union (health/social) saying “we have reached a point of no return” with services “exploding”.

Unions call reforms ‘disturbing’

Responding to a call to arms from France’s main public service unions (CGT, CFDT, FO, FSU, Solidaires, Unsa, FA-FP, CFE-CGC, CFTC) who represent 5.5 million state employees, workers took to the streets across the country.

According to the Ministry for the Interior, there were 108,900 demonstrators across France. The CGT put the figure much higher at 250,000.

The unions denounce the planned reforms, describing it as “having very disturbing consequences”.

In Marseille, 3,500 to 4,000 demonstrators took to the city’s main boulevard Canebière, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.

In Lyon, local authorities claimed 3,300 people demonstrated but the unions put the number at 5,300. There were almost as many in Nantes, where school teachers, public finance workers and hospital staff marched, with support from some Yellow Vest activists. Leading the protest were employees of emergency rooms at France University Hospitals who chanted: “patients everywhere and no nurses!” and “hospital in danger!”

In the popular holiday city of Nice, 6% of schools were closed, as were 60% of canteens and 40% of crèches, with staff protesting through the southern French city centre.

Among teachers, the state ministry said that 17.59% of primary school teachers went on strike along with 11.68% of high school teachers.

Only the first step

The unions warned that Thursday was only “the first step” in a “long-term” movement to stop the proposed law and called on the government to open fresh negotiations.

Secretary of State Olivier Dussopt dismissed the union’s demands on Thursday morning on Cnews, confirming that there would be no withdrawal or renegotiation of this reform.

The bill is on the National Assembly’s agenda for next Monday. The government wants to have it formally adopted before the summer for it to come into force on January 1, 2020.

The Minister of Public Accounts Gérald Darmanin described the goal as “achievable” on April 26, while President Emmanuel Macron asked the government for “its analysis by the summer”.


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