By Sophie Louet
PARIS (Reuters) – France’s labour unions, galled by years of public sector pay curbs and President Emmanuel Macron’s economic reforms, urged civil servants, hospital staff and other state employees to stop work on Tuesday and join nationwide street protests.
It is the third time that the unions have sought to stage a show of strength in such a way since Macron began his five-year term in May 2017. A previous one drew some 320,000 people into the streets in March.
The 40-year-old leader has shown no sign of surrender so far.
Tuesday’s call came from all of the large labour unions plus many smaller ones and involved organisation of street rallies in about 140 cities, towns and villages across France.
Postal workers, air traffic controllers, state teachers and public administration workers were urged to quit their posts and join marches to denounce what the unions say is an erosion of spending power and the public service itself under Macron.
One catalyst for their anger is a proposal to end certain sick leave perks and cut 120,000 government administration posts. Also on the cards is an increased recourse to contract hiring rather than the job-for-life recruitment that is standard in the civil service.
In all, France has about 5.7 million employees in government administration, state agencies, schools and hospitals.
The latest protest dovetails with one specific to France’s national railways: services have been disrupted for several days each week since early April by strikes over plans end the SNCF train company’s monopoly, and with it the hiring of rail workers on more protective contracts than other sectors.
“We’re demonstrating in defence of a public service that is there to serves everyone, wherever in the country they live,” Philippe Martinez, head of the Communist-linked CGT union, told RTL radio.
(Writing by Brian Love; Editging by Richard Balmforth)