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Worker Strikes in France

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Toronto, Canada
posts: 3,622
reviews: 4
Worker Strikes in France

I was just having a look at fares on Air France and saw a warning that some of the air traffic controllers are on strike on Thursday.

Just a question for those who live in France - out of curiosity, it seems like there are many, many employment strikes in France, none of which appear to last very long.

Is that just how they roll there? The workers go on strike, the employers quickly concede, then it's business as usual?

Are the employees generally treated unfairly, so this is the only way to get the concessions they need? Or is it just how it goes?

Workers ask for something, employers decline, workers strike, then they work it out?

I really am just curious. Where I live, there are often threatened strikes, but they rarely come to it. We had a municipal strike last summer that lasted far too long (no garbage pickup in summer months), but it had been years since that has happened.

Are there more work demonstrations during the warm months, where more people and tourists will be affected?

As I said, I was just curious.

Bucks, UK
posts: 4,449
reviews: 5
1. Re: Worker Strikes in France

France has long had a strong union culture and a tradition of street protest, so strikes are not unusual. They are not any more common in the tourist season, except for those industries where striking at that time will have the maximum impact (which is why British Airways cabin crew have timed all their strikes to coincide with public and school holidays) this tactic is not unique to France. In fact, certain strikes have in the past been suspended so that the workers can take their August holiday, then resume in September!

With the financial austerity measures that all European govts are being forced to apply to rein in soaring deficits, strikes (particularly amongst state employees) will become more common. Life goes on, however, and even during periods of frequent strike activity (like the 1970s) people manage to go on holiday and have a good time.

Edited: 3:54 am, May 27, 2010
Tampa, Florida
posts: 29,907
reviews: 7
2. Re: Worker Strikes in France

I think pmmcTO's confusion partly lies in the enormous difference between a North American strike and a European strike.

In NA, strikes are the weapon of last resort...all other attempts to reach agreement have failed, and so either the unions walk out, or the factories lock them out. By this time, nerves are frayed, and a strike becomes a very tense, potentially explosive situation.

In France, it's the other way round. The unions say "We're upset about...." (which could be something as seemingly irrational as a price hike in the company cantine...) ...and we're going to strike to show you how upset we are."

Strikes are the FIRST weapon in a French union's arsenal.

So they're advertised in advance...the transport strike today (which is not causing major disruptions anywhere, by the way) was announced just two weeks ago...it's not uncommon to see a strike announced 6-8 weeks early.

They're for a specific time period. Today's was announced to begin at 8pm Paris time Wednesday evening, and is to continue for 36 hours. When that 36 hours is over, everyone will go back to work like nothing ever happened.

There are some demonstrations and marches, but they're generally peaceful affairs...no picket lines, no scabs, and while the police (who are formally notified in writing of a planned action, including details of any planned demonstrations or marches) are there to prevent any problems, there's typically little to no violence...car burning...looting.

I'm told that strikes used to affect things much more...but now, they're usually just an annoyance (in the button off of your shirt category), and life goes on mostly as usual.

And no...French workers are generally treated far more fairly than their North American counterparts (4 weeks paid vacation, tons of legal holidays, 35-hour work week, the company generally pays part of your lunch money, and frequently pays for your Metro pass)..

Paris, France
posts: 23,228
reviews: 33
3. Re: Worker Strikes in France

Actually, French workers have 5 weeks of paid vacation minimum.

People don't seem to realize that France is the least unionized developed country in the world with only about 8% union membership. That compares to 13% in the U.S., 26% in Germany, 29% in the U.K., and... 82% in Sweden.

The advantage of the French trade unions is that they are strong in strategic public service areas and can disrupt work by non striking people.

Nevertheless, France also has much lower strike statistics than most other countries, contrary to popular belief. The strike leaders of the world (in numbers of days of work lost over a five year average) are Denmark, Iceland and Canada. France is only #10, the U.S. is #11.

Perpignan, France
Destination Expert
for Languedoc-Roussillon, Perpignan
posts: 6,057
reviews: 90
4. Re: Worker Strikes in France

Also contrary to popular belief, the average work week in France is 38 hrs

(Germany : 35.6 hrs - Denmark : 30.8 hrs - Europe zone : 37.4 hrs - Average 27 EU countries : 37.9 hrs)

Tampa, Florida
posts: 29,907
reviews: 7
5. Re: Worker Strikes in France

My mistake on the vacation...

But the work week is *officially* 35 hours...and we all know that there is usually a difference between "official" and "actual".

Perpignan, France
Destination Expert
for Languedoc-Roussillon, Perpignan
posts: 6,057
reviews: 90
6. Re: Worker Strikes in France

The difference is that salaries are calculated on a 35 hr/week basis.

If people work more as is generally the case they get paid more or get extra vacation time. All this being perfectly legal.

Not all companies pay for lunch money and not all companies pay for transportation either.

Paris, France
posts: 23,228
reviews: 33
7. Re: Worker Strikes in France

Yes, my work week is 37.5 hours, but I do get off 11 additional days of RTT comp time. I am definitely not complaining about my conditions because I have 43 vacation days + 11 RTT days per year -- that's almost eleven weeks of vacation.

Toronto, Canada
posts: 3,622
reviews: 4
8. Re: Worker Strikes in France

11 weeks?! Really?! Is that in addition to Statutory Holidays like Christmas, Easter, etc.?

So how exactly do we move there? :-)

Thanks all for your responses. Really interesting!

Paris, France
posts: 23,228
reviews: 33
9. Re: Worker Strikes in France

Yes, that is in addition to legal holidays. I must confess that my own company has the added advantage of giving us additional days for holidays that fall on a weekend (of which there are many this year -- such as May 1st and May 8th -- a lot of people have been spitting nails over this).

Avignon, France
Destination Expert
for Avignon
posts: 5,279
reviews: 76
10. Re: Worker Strikes in France

I also found that there's a strike at the Post Office today. I was sending off a registered letter, which I was told probably won't be delivered as expected tomorrow.

If I worked there I think I'd be urging a strike due to terrible working (and queuing) conditions; despite a big refit last year, no aircon was fitted! Phew!