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SCHOOLS

Striking French teachers win concessions from the government

After schools closed across much of France on Thursday following a teachers' strike, the government announced that schools will receive 5 million FFP2 masks and recruit thousands of substitute teachers to help deal with the pandemic.

French teachers held a mass strike on Thursday against the government's  handling of the Covid pandemic in schools.
French teachers held a mass strike on Thursday against the government's handling of the Covid pandemic in schools. They won a number of concessions. (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)

Huge numbers of French teachers went on strike Thursday, with the biggest teachers’ union saying half of primary schools were closed as staff demand clarity from the government on coronavirus measures.

Coming as France’s presidential election campaign gets under way ahead of an April vote, the walkout is awkward for President Emmanuel Macron’s government which has prided itself on keeping schools open to ease pressure on parents through the pandemic.

Tens of thousands also took to the streets, with the interior ministry saying almost 78,000 teachers and other education workers protested nationwide, including 8,200 in Paris.

While the education ministry said almost 40 percent of primary school teachers had walked out, top union Snuipp put the figure at 75 percent with one primary school in two closed for the day.

The strike “demonstrates the growing despair in schools”, Snuipp said in a Tuesday statement announcing the strike.

They complain that their members are unable to teach properly, are not adequately protected against coronavirus infection and frequently hear about changes to health precautions via the media rather than from higher-ups.

“The government announces things, but no-one thinks about what it means for staff on the ground,” Olivier Flipo, the head of a Paris school, told AFP this week.

“They’re asking hellish things of us and it’s all going to the dogs”.

With many pupils off sick and difficulty combining distance learning with in-person classes, “it’s not school that’s open, but a kind of ‘daycare’,” Snuipp said.

Some parents AFP spoke to on the street backed the strike.

“I understand the teachers and their position… classes are too big, they don’t get paid enough, their working conditions aren’t the best,” said Akim Aouchiche outside a northeast Paris school.

“It’s their way of making themselves heard,” said tax advisor Alexandra Stojek.

“I understand what they’re asking for, it’s justified, they’re not doing this to bother us.”

Crisis management

“Until now, the public thought the government and President Emmanuel Macron had managed the crisis properly,” Brice Teinturier of pollster Ipsos told AFP.

But if there is significant disruption from the strike, “that balance risks toppling”, he added.

Macron’s presidential election challengers have seized on the walkout, with far-left and Socialist candidates Jean-Luc Melenchon and Anne Hidalgo joining marchers in Paris.

The acting party chief of the far-right National Rally Jordan Bardella said the strike showed “the problem above all is Emmanuel Macron”.

Motivated by long queues for tests outside pharmacies, the government this week eased rules on Covid checks for students who have been exposed to an infected person, with Prime Minister Jean Castex announcing the changes on Monday’s evening news.

“We’ve listened and made changes,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters after a cabinet meeting Wednesday, acknowledging “weariness” among both parents and teachers.

The shift up the chain of command appeared to be a reaction to the anger teachers direct at Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer.

But Blanquer has not backed down from tough talk, saying on television Tuesday that “you don’t go on strike against a virus”.

In a bid to ease tensions, Prime Minister Jean Castex hosted a meeting Thursday afternoon alongside Blanquer with education union leaders.

At the end of that meeting, Blanquer said some five million high-grade FFP2 masks would be made available mostly for nursery school teachers, as well as several thousand substitute staff dispatched to help “face the crisis”.

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STRIKES

Strike to ‘strongly disturb’ Parisian bus and tram services on Monday

Strikes over working conditions means that bus and tram lines in the French capital will be running at 60 percent capacity on Monday, with further disruption expected later in the week.

Strike to 'strongly disturb' Parisian bus and tram services on Monday

A fresh wave of strikes at the RATP – the company responsible for operating public transport in Paris – will result in widespread disruption on Monday. 

While Metro and RER services will run as normal, bus and tram services will operate at a significantly reduced capacity. 

In a notice to passengers published on Sunday evening, the RATP said that some bus lines would be closed completely. Only two out of three buses will run on the lines that remain open during the daytime. The night bus service will run as normal. 

On average, three out of five trams will run on Monday. 

Normal traffic is expected on tramlines T5, T6 and T7. 

On T1, only one out of two trams will run, with a ten minute interval between each shuttle. The line will only run between Gare de Noisy and Gare de Gennevilliers. Operation times are limited to 06:00-11:00 and 15h:00-20:00. 

On T2, only one out of two trams will run during rush hour. The line will connect Porte de Versailles and Puteaux with shuttles running every ten minutes during rush hour and every 20 minutes outside of this. Between Pont de Bezons and Charlebourg, shuttles will run every five minutes during rush hour and every fifteen minutes outside of this. 

T3a will operate one out of every two trams, exclusively between Pont du Garigliano and Porte d’Italie. The line will run from 06:30-11:00 and 16:30-21:00. 

T3b will operate half of all trams, exclusively between Porte de Vincennes and Porte de la Chapelle. Traffic will only run from 06:00-10:30 and 15:30-20:00. 

The T8 line is by far the most disrupted with only one in every four trams running. The line will only operate between Saint-Denis – Porte de Paris et Epinay–Orgemont. Trams will run between 06:00-10:00 and 16:00-20:00. 

Further strike action is expected on Wednesday, although RATP are yet to disclose the scale of that later disruption. 

What is behind the strikes? 

Bus and tram workers are striking over proposed plans to open up RATP services to subsidiary companies, with changes to working conditions.

As of January 1st, 2025, all bus will be transferred to the subsidiaries or competing companies who won bids issued by the regional transport authority, Île-de-France Mobilités. 

RATP plans to put the new working conditions into effect – those that would have been set to apply in 2025 – as early as July. These changes would impact at least 18,000 drivers. 

Specifically, drivers will fall under the “territorial social framework” (CST), the minimum legal framework for working hours, which will require 35 hours of work per week (and 37 hours per week for select drivers). Currently, the RATP’s rules regarding working hours are more advantageous, with the average driver working 33 hours a week (excluding overtime and travel time). 

Union management has been fighting against these proposed changes for over a year, having already held a strike March 25th, which impacted over 30 percent of bus lines in the Paris region.

Now, they calling for mobilisation to “defend their working conditions” again.

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