French Strikes Threaten to ‘Shut Down’ the Country

Anger Over Proposed Law Results In French Strikes In Major Service Areas

The French people have always enjoyed one of the best work environments in Europe. With their 35-hour work week, generous salaries and leave, and job security, French workers have been the envy of their counterparts the world over. This all may be about to change.

The French government has a bill before it that will roll back many of the benefits that workers have enjoyed for years. And the response of labor unions throughout the country has been to strike, or at least to threaten the action.

French strikes are rare, but this bill has some drastic changes.

Major Provisions Of The Bill

The bill includes the following provisions which obviously have French union workers up in arms.

  • It will be easier for companies to fire their workers and hire on some of the younger demographic, which is experiencing a 10 percent unemployment rate. Unions claim these younger job seekers have not been prepared for work.
  • Family leave will be cut back.
  • Workers can be asked to work as many as 48 hours a week, and in certain situations, up to 60 hours a week. Rather than pay overtime, a company must return those hours to its workers, so that they average 35 hours a week over a three-month period.
  • Employers are given the option to lower wages if they have not been profitable for specific periods of time.

The government insists that these changes are necessary in order to encourage companies to hire younger workers whose generation is experiencing such a high unemployment rate. Workers’ unions see it as a way to gradually reduce their power.

The response of the unions? French strikes that come at a very bad time.

Bad Time For Strikes

The 2016 Europe soccer championships are set to begin in France next week, and tourists from all over the world will descend on the country for the event. Unfortunately, workers in oil refineries and a nuclear plant went on strike several weeks ago and have no intention of returning until the proposed law is abandoned.

France has been struggling to keep its lights and air conditioners on, and gas stations are running dry — not the kind of situation tourists find enjoyable.

Pilots and air traffic controllers were the next to add to these growing French strikes. Negotiations with the three unions involved in air travel were finally productive, at least to keep flights at full capacity through the weekend as spectators arrive. According to CNN, however, pilots stated that they very well may go back on strike next week.

The Worst Disruption

When the train drivers joined in the fight, the “shut down” was virtually complete. Now, only a third of trains are running, and this will impact all of those travelers who rely on trains for their transport once they arrive for the games.

Just yesterday, train workers and police clashed in the port city of Le Havre when protesters were met with a hail of tear gas from law enforcement. And Le Havre dock workers have joined in, stating they will begin striking on Friday, shutting down this busy port.

All of this has now been “topped off” by the weather.


As if things could get no worse for the soccer championship next week, the chaos will be worsened by floods in the eastern part of France. The legs of the Eiffel Tower are under water, as the Seine River has overflowed. Rivers are expected to crest on Friday; however, it will be a soggy vacation for the 2.5 million people expected to attend the games.

Public Opinion

A recent survey by Ifop, a French polling firm, reported that 46 percent of the French people oppose the new law entirely, and another 40 percent want it amended to favor workers more. Only 11 percent supported the bill, which has gone through the lower house without even a vote. It now goes to the upper chamber, where it is expected to pass.

There are signs, however, that as the French strikes drag on and people experience the inconveniences, support for the unions may be dwindling.

Let The Games Begin

The Euro championship will go on as scheduled, while both French President Hollande, and the unions insist they will not budge.

[Pjoto by Markus Schreiber/AP Images]

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