Overtime fear causes rush to stop French strike action during Paris Olympics

Employees have demanded extra pay for working extra hours during the games, an expert has said

Members of the CGT union protest at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games offices. Getty Images
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French unions representing public sector workers are threatening strikes over pay and working conditions as they face dealing with millions of visitors during the Paris Olympics this summer.

The prospect of potentially embarrassing protest action disrupting the showpiece event when the eyes of the world will be on the city has prompted the government of President Emmanuel Macron to begin offering bonuses to police and other workers.

According to some estimates, 15.9 million people could visit Paris and the surrounding region from July to September, the period of the Olympics and Paralympics.

The games are likely to increase strain in Paris, which has already been stretched by heightened security threats and chronic staffing shortages at hospitals and on the transport network.

Leading the way in threatening strikes is the CGT union, whose general secretary Sophie Binet has said it will provide notice for the public-sector workers they represent to walk out during July and August, coinciding with the scheduled dates of the games.

Among the groups of workers it represents who could strike are hospital staff, customs officers and those in the cultural sector.

One expert The National spoke to said the government has been slow to clarify whether workers will be paid more for the longer hours needed to keep Paris running during the games.

Paul Smith, from Nottingham University, said President Macron will be hoping to appeal to workers not to “ruin the party” and that the fractured nature of France’s unions will blunt any action.

“But the people who are there to make the magic happen are not feeling very magical at the moment,” he said.

Ms Binet called on the government to inject more funding into hospitals, which she claimed are in a “catastrophic” state if France wants to be able to deal with the influx of visitors.

“We are very, very, very worried about how it will be this summer,” she said.

“It won’t be possible to blackmail staff once again by asking them to work more overtime and call into question their paid leave. They are exhausted and can’t take it any more. We need a recruitment plan.”

The union leader said the government has yet to explain “how are we going to accommodate all the workers who will have to come for the Olympics?”.

“How are we going to take care of their children when they’re the ones who have to work? What kind of bonuses will they get?”

Ms Binet said “it’s getting very tiresome” calling on the government to ensure pay and conditions are sorted in time.

“We want the government to take immediate action to ensure the success of the Games,” she said.

The union is currently involved in a pay dispute with the Paris transport operator RATP, which is scheduled to continue until September.

François-Xavier Arouls, one of the leaders of the Solidaires union at RATP, said if “workers are no longer willing to make sacrifices for what the government says is the greater good”, but added that if properly paid “we will be there and help make the country proud during the games”.

Meanwhile the Force Ouvrière union, France’s third largest, said it was also looking at potential strike action during the period covering the games.

But general secretary of the CFDT union, Marylise Léon, said is “no desire to spoil this festive moment of the Olympic Games”.

In response, the government has agreed police officers posted during the Olympics will receive bonuses of up to €1,900 ($2,050). Other workers have also been offered up to €350 in subsidies for childcare as well as 1,000 reserved places for their children to go to camp.

Dr Smith said that “outwardly it would be an embarrassment” to President Macron’s government if there were to be strikes during the Olympics.

“The joke is of course that the French will excel at their national sport which is going on strike, and they will get a gold medal for it,” he said.

“But the trade unions need to be careful because the government can always flip it around and say ‘we’ve invited the world to our games and you’re the ones screwing up the party’.”

Dr Smith explained “there is a feeling in Paris and not just in people in unions that the whole Olympics business has been poorly organised”.

“People working in the private sector are unsure what the situation is about holidays is and what the compensation will be. There has been a lack of clarity from the government and these things could have been sorted at out before. It’s not as if they didn’t know the games were coming.”

“You listen to French ministers on the radio talking on a marco level about their plans but for many individuals, it’s not clear to them what’s happening.”

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Updated: April 02, 2024, 3:49 PM