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Strikes in France – what to know

France strikes - taken from The Economist (link below)

France strikes – taken from The Economist (link below)

Essential reading from The Economist (May 27)
Article here focuses on all that is going on in France.

Update May 27 from US Embassy Paris:

Full link to travel advisory

“…The following strikes have been announced for the week of May 30:

Rail – The national unions which represents rail workers renewed their call for strikes limiting rail services along the TVG, RER and SNCF networks. An “unlimited strike” is scheduled to start at 9 am on Tuesday, May 31 for a period of at least 24 hours.

Paris-area Public Transportation – The union representing the Paris metro area transportation (RATP) has called for an “unlimited strike” starting on June 2 of all public transportation services, including the Paris metro, buses, and RER trains.

Air – Air traffic controllers have also called for strikes Friday, June 3 to Sunday, June 5 which could result in delays or cancellations of flights originating in France…”

By now, you have probably heard that France has been undergoing rounds of strikes and protests over the past couple months. This is in large part due to proposed labor reforms. Of course most of you know that strikes and public outcry are a way of life in France that most people tend to accept with a shrug.

The Local France has an interesting piece on this cultural reality, as well as countless publications in the past including BBC and Slate. Even The Onion got in on the humor with a fake French protest image back in 2005.

But this time seems to be different: these are arguably the strikes with the most impact in 20 years. Taken with the ongoing “state of emergency” that France has put into place since the November terrorist attacks (and have extended), France has a palpable undercurrent of tension.

For now, what you should know about the strikes: 
These strikes are affecting transportation, oil refineries, nuclear power stations and more throughout the country. The BBC outlines the main points of the proposed reforms here along with more coverage of the action. I’ve laid those out at the end of this post.

The Economist also has an interesting piece on the strikes – anticipating action throughout the summer.

Another useful guide is from the great folks at The Local. Local resources in France for tracking news updates include the SNCF website, which currently states that traffic should start resuming to normal May 27 but to keep abreast of updates. Their travel agency Voyages SNCF also has a helpful resource for train travel updates.

You should also stay abreast of airline travel through your local airline. Aéroports de Paris does have general updates as well for Paris Orly and Paris CDG traffic.

BFM TV, Libération, France 24 and Le Monde are also great resources.

At the time of this being published, there have been clashes reported by protestors in Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Bordeaux and other major cities. Your local embassy should be the best resource for expat nationals living and traveling in France for up to date security information. The US Embassy, for example, has contact info here and updates on their Twitter feed.

Want to brush up on your French travel vocabulary? Try About.com or FluentU.

If you have travel plans to France or are thinking of moving there in the coming year, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so – just do your research and travel intelligently. I have lived in France for 30% of my entire life at different times as an intern, student, grad student, English teacher and employee. It is a place that is dear to me, and I would love for you to also have those life-changing experiences.

Travel smartly, safely and avoid protest areas. Take a lesson from my French friends and enjoy life, drink some wine and sit back to see how this evolves. C’est la vie, enfin.

French labour reform bill – main points

  • The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours
  • Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay
  • The law eases conditions for laying off workers, strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn
  • Employers given more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated

French strikes go into overdrive

October 19th, 2010 10 comments

Following on my post about Oct. 19 planned strikes, they are well underway across the country. You can see specials in New York Times as well as here too with pictures, BBC News, Libération, and Figaro. BBC even has Q&A about the strikes. English translations of French press commentary can be read here. BBC has pictures here.

France 24 has a travel survival guide posted as well, stating that disruptions could continue for the rest of the month. I’ll be sure to keep you informed.

Paris metro and suburban rail line updates can be found on the RATP website. At the time of this posting, metro line traffic was getting back to normal, but bus lines were still disrupted. RER trains are running 2 out of 3 for the RER A, 1 out of 2 for RER B (the Charles de Gaulle Airport line).

You can see the status of your trains in Ile de France (Paris region) for RER trains on this website. You can get more info on SNCF trains here. You can find information for other metro areas transport below, mostly in French. You can see the status of departures and arrivals in the main train stations at Gares en Mouvement website.

Aéroports de Paris (which runs Orly, Roissy Charles de Gaulle and Beauvais airports) said to expect possible delays, cancellations and other inconveniences on Oct. 19 and after. Check with your airlines, as some were asked to cancel flights.

Other major cities and their transport systems below with relevant updates:
Lyon, Grenoble, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Lille, Nice, Nantes, Rennes, Dijon, Brest, Caen, La Rochelle, Le Havre, Montpellier

You should know as well that almost 3000 gas stations at supermarkets (50% of supermarkets) are almost or completely out of fuel, as fuel depots are blocked around the country by strikers. 4000 stations are being affected by a slowdown in provisions, but François Fillon says there should be a “return to normal in the next four to five days.” Sarkozy said he will respond “with force” to get the economy back going. In the meantime, here are some tips about how to find a station.

BBC posted this info from the IEA concerning the fuel shortage:

-France, like other European countries, has at least 90 days of oil reserves
-Emergency reserves are held by oil industry and last for 30 days
-Strategic reserves are controlled by the government and last for 60 days
-The reserves are divided between crude and “oil products” – petrol, diesel and heating oil
-The reserves are held at France’s 12 refineries and 100 oil depots

It seems the participation at midday is down from last week, but it is still quite significant. President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister François Fillon are determined to pass the reform, with Sarkozy calling it his “duty”. The reform is set to be voted on by the French Sénat tomorrow. Figaro has a fantastic, detailed chart of what the reform proposes. As you will see, fonctionnaires remain the aristocracy of France, weighing on pensions even more.

In addition to transport, some schools are closed as well as the post offices. 400 high schools are blocked on strike around the country (including the one next to my apartment), with violence breaking out at some like in Nanterre. There were some quite vulgar signs and banners that I will not detail here, but one could say that the lycéens are not happy. Youth feel like raising the retirement age will be to their detriment, not only for working longer but also for leaving older people in jobs that they feel could prevent them from getting jobs. But that is only if the economy cannot diversify and produce jobs for young graduates.

Since Socialist president François Mitterrand lowered the retirement age from 65 to 60 in 1981, the unemployment rate has averaged 9.5% from 1983 to 2010, based on many factors including especially rigid labor laws that make it costly for companies to hire (payroll taxes can reach almost 50%, so that for an employee making 2000 euros/month, the company is paying about 4000 euros). So while I understand the worries of students who want to secure a job after their studies, I certainly do not think raising the retirement age will take away their jobs. How many 20 year-olds take jobs that 60 year-olds take, anyway?

What France needs is to raise the retirement age, and 62 is a reasonable level to start with (it will go higher after), and it needs to encourage private industry, venture capital, entrepreneurship and reduce costs for companies to give them incentives to hire. There is a traditionally anti-business sentiment in France, akin to the anti-government feelings in the US. But I think in the past couple years our countries have started to bridge that gap slowly – but there remains undeniable cultural disparity.

A couple of interesting polls give insight into the situation. The first one asks “Do you think the strikes and protests are beginning to lose steam?”, and over 58% said yes, but this was conducted by the Figaro, which is center-right. The second one, still by Figaro, asks if the government should use force to gain access to fuel depots that are blocked. The result? An overwhelming 80% said yes. Indeed, Sarkozy said that he would do this, because the economy is being hit by these strikes

Figaro TV news is at the bottom of this posting to give you an inside look at the violence between youth and police. I’ll update this week as we go along. Good luck!

French ongoing strikes Oct. 12, and perhaps more after

October 11th, 2010 1 comment

If you’re lounging in the sun at Jardin Luxembourg, know that heated debate is going on in the Sénat building next to you.

Following strikes and demonstrations Sep. 7, Sep. 23 and Oct. 2 against government proposals to reform the pension and retirement system in France (including raising the general age from 60 to 62), the main unions (CFDT, CFTC, CGT, FO, SUD, UNSA-GATC…) have called for yet another day of “action” on the streets.

Laurence Parisot, President of MEDEF (the National Council of French Employers, basically a CEO club), said these strikes would continue to undermine the reputation of France abroad as a reliable place to do business. Prime Minister François Fillon meanwhile said it could well take a “decade” before France balances its budget. As The Economist wrote, President Sarkozy is trying to pass this crucial reform in the midst of a reputation comeback effort at home and abroad.

Conservative daily Le Figaro presents a great special report on the retirement reform here. It also stated that this is a “decisive week” for the strike movement, but only 31% of French support a strike that could be extended during this week or longer but 71% support the reasons behind the social movement, nuances that match historical support for resistance to government reform that is badly needed to get the government budget in order. Many strikers want to see taxes raised on the wealthy, such as an elimination of the current ceiling of 50% tax rate on the wealthiest.

RATP, the Parisian region transport authority, has posted updates for tomorrow’s traffic here. Metro lines 1, 11, 14 should have no problems. Line 6 will have 75% traffic; lines 3, 4 , 8, 13 will have 66% traffic; and line 2, 5, 7, 9, 10, 12 will have 50% traffic. For RER suburban rail lines, RER A will have 50% traffic, RER B will have 20% traffic (so for CDG airport, I’d advise you to take alternate transport: Roissybus to/from metro Opéra, a taxi or Air France shuttles). Orly transport options are listed too.

SNCF, the national railway operator, has posted information as well here on the possibly ‘ongoing’ strikes (so, which could be repeated over several days). You can find information for other metro areas transport below, mostly in French. You can see the status of departures and arrivals in the main train stations at Gares en Mouvement website, one of the few things I like at SNCF (though overall I wish the U.S. had an impressive HSR system)

Aéroports de Paris (which runs Orly, Roissy Charles de Gaulle and Beauvais airports) said to expect possible delays, cancellations and other inconveniences on Oct. 12, notably because of Air France workers on strike. Air France posts information here on the strikes.

Other major cities and their transport systems below with relevant updates:
Lyon, Grenoble, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Lille, Nice, Nantes, Rennes, Dijon, Brest, Caen, La Rochelle, Le Havre, Montpellier

Bon courage to everyone. Just take a deep breath, buy a baguette, drink some vin rouge, and complain against strikers. You’re becoming French by the moment. There are many wonderful things in this country, try to enjoy your time here!

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