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The French government seeks to "flexibilize" public jobs amid a climate of growing citizen discontent, which made it possible for all big unions to reach a common stand for the first time.
For the first time in their history, the nine largest French workers unions -including the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) and the Workers' Force (FO)- summoned millions of citizens on Thursday to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s reforms which seek to change contracting modalities, reduce the right to organize and eliminate about 120,000 jobs.
Although there were hundreds of demonstrations throughout the country, the largest protest occurred in Paris, where the CGT alone managed to gather easily 30,000 people. French workers from different sectors, who were already upset by the pension reform and their decreasing purchasing power, slammed a bill seeking an unprecedented labor flexibilization.
Basically, they rejected a proposal which aims to replace officials having tenure by hired personnel, implement temporary contracts that could be renewed for up to six years, set mechanisms to establish "individualized" remunerations and formalize a sort of "agreed" dismissal.
The Budget, Public Accounts and Civil Administration Minister, Olivier Dussopt, warned that such bill will not be negotiated or withdrawn.
"We have had fifteen months of the agreement, six weeks of official consultations and we have accepted many amendments," Dussopt said and recalled that the Macron government was willing to give up its goal of eliminating 120,000 jobs in the public sector.
"No Republic without public services!" Defend the civil servants’ status against the attacks of Macron, who is following the Brussels’ austerity injunctions! On the May 26 [European Parliament elections] we’ll vote for ‘the Untamed France’ list, which is lead by Manon Aubry. Now, the People.” The meme’s banner reads “The Public Function is Pissed Off.”
Going against the official statements and warnings, the CGT Secretary-General Philippe Martinez held a rather different opinion.
"The project must be withdrawn and there must be a new discussion on the development of public services because obviously it must be improved. But it must be improved by re-opening a certain number of hospitals, schools, by re-hiring civil servants. That is what must be done."
The workers' leader also pointed out that there is a high level of discontent inside French public agencies, adding that "if we take Mr. Macron at his word, he wants to put them back in their place in the unions. When there is unanimity among unions, it's worth reflecting on this reform."
Up to the moment, however, the right-wing president has not given up his austerity goals. The French parliament will debate Macron's bill on May 13. If approved, the reform will come into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
Meanwhile, many social discontents came together in Thursday's nationwide strike: police officers requested greater recognition of their work; hospital workers decried the closure of local health services, and teachers rejected the merger of several schools into a single entity.