France: unions continue to mobilise for improved health and working conditions in education

published 20 January 2022 updated 25 January 2022

Following the strongly supported strike on 13 January, the French trade union federations have called for another day of action on 20 January to continue to demand adequate health conditions to protect against COVID-19 in schools and an improvement in the status of teachers.

20 January is a new day of action, called for by the cross-union grouping FSU, the Confédération générale du Travail (CGT), the Union syndicale Solidaires (SUD), Force Ouvrière (FO), the federation of parents’ councils ( Fédération des conseils de parents d'élèves - FCPE), and the high school students’ unions, the Mouvement national lycéen (MNL), the Voix Lycéenne and the Fédération indépendante et démocratique lycéenne (FIDL). The day comes shortly before the cross-sector pay strike planned for 27 January.

Keep up the pressure, continue to mobilise

The Syndicat national des enseignements de second degré- Fédération syndicale unitaire (SNES-FSU) emphasised that the mobilisation of 13 January had forced the government to react: “Prime Minister Jean Castex has taken the matter in hand, the tone has changed, and the door has been opened, slightly, on certain subjects. Let's step up the mobilisation to win, notably, a protocol to make schools safe, the postponement of the baccalaureate exams, the cancellation of job cuts and an improvement in pay grades for all staff, no strings attached.

The SNES-FSU also recalled that on 13 January “the demonstrations brought together nearly 100,000 people with a participation rate of more than 60 % in secondary education, and nearly 80 % for education assistants (AED). While at the beginning of the day, there was no response from the ministry, by the afternoon, the government had decided, urgently, to receive the trade unions. A sign of their anxiety in face of the mobilisation.”

The union also welcomed the fact that commitments had been made, particularly for secondary education: the opening of negotiations for the postponement of the specialised baccalaureate exams scheduled for March, the recruitment of 1,500 AEDs, the delivery of surgical masks and even FFP2 masks in certain cases. On method (communication in particular), the Prime Minister acknowledged that things needed to be done better.

For the SNES-FSU, this is a first step that must be followed by others and the government cannot limit itself to these decisions alone. In addition, it must:

  • Cancel the job cuts planned for the beginning of the new school year and decide on a collective budget for education;
  • Programme a multi-year recruitment plan;
  • Review the disastrous and inegalitarian reforms of the Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer; and above all
  • Revise the salaries of education workers without delay.

All the above are essential demands that must be at the heart of the next mobilisations.

Vigilance over the respect and implementation of the Prime Minister's announcements

The Union nationale des syndicats autonomes Éducation (UNSA Éducation) pointed out that, following the day of mobilisation on Thursday 13 January, several education unions published a text to remind everyone what had been obtained thanks to the historic mobilisation by national education staff, and to ensure vigilance with regard to the respect and implementation of the announcements made by Prime Minister Jean Castex by remaining mobilised.

The text emphasises that “staff from all professions have taken action to express their exasperation with the current situation: the chaotic management of the health crisis which is leading to the complete disorganisation of schools and educational establishments, and Jean-Michel Blanquer’s contempt and lack of consideration for education workers”.

While duly noting the announcements made on health and education, the trade unions also point out in this joint text the shortcomings on many other issues: overworked staff, financial recognition for this, delays in the communication and implementation of decisions, exams, etc.

They warn: “Today, much remains to be done to ensure that the announcements are translated into action on the ground and even more to respond to the exasperation of staff, expressed in the streets on 13 January. The trade unions reaffirm their determination to remain mobilised in various forms to ensure that the measures announced are respected and to obtain lasting improvements for the education system and material and moral recognition for the education professions.”

Respect for education, recognition for staff

Speaking on behalf of UNSA Education at the meeting of the Ministry of Education's Health, Safety and Working Conditions Committee on 18 January, Elisabeth Allain-Moreno reiterated the clear demands of her union:

  • To inform teachers directly through professional channels of any change in health rules, weighing their interests carefully and allowing sufficient time for implementation;
  • Stop requiring them to work a double day by explicitly removing the instruction to combine face-to-face and distance learning, day and evening crisis management, on weekdays and at the weekend;
  • Suspend everything that is not a priority (evaluation of schools and establishments, training, drafting of projects, etc.);
  • Recruit a sufficient number of staff with an attractive package in order to ensure the replacements that are currently not carried out and that destabilise schools and establishments every day, to make it possible to manage and follow-up pupils who have tested positive and contact cases;
  • Equip teachers with self-administered Covid tests, and with FFP2 masks for those who wish to use them, depending on their profession or vulnerability, in addition to the promised surgical masks;
  • Foresee any reorganisation (exams, work experience, etc.) well in advance, so as not to jeopardise our teamwork and the future of our students; and
  • Intervene as closely as possible in the territories so that work on school buildings can begin in earnest.

UNSA Education considers that “the government must listen to what our education staff are saying to it, it is a question of our working conditions and the learning conditions of all the pupils in our country” and that “it is the duty of the executive to accelerate the pace and to move from words to deeds”.

Allain-Moreno concluded by assuring that “we will take the time, as we always do at UNSA Education, to intervene on each of the subjects in a framework of constructive dialogue in the interest of each staff member we represent”.

Support from Francophone education unions

On 13 January, the Comité syndical francophone de l'éducation et de la formation (CSFEF), the organisation that brings together the French-speaking affiliates of Education International, gave its support to French colleagues.

For Jean-Hervé Cohen, President of the CSFEF, in France, “since the start of term in January, the exhaustion and exasperation of the entire education community has reached unprecedented levels. The minister and the government bear full responsibility for this chaotic situation, due to the constant changes of direction, untenable protocols and the lack of means given to ensure the functioning of education. Despite the unprecedented spread of the epidemic, our national education system does not benefit from the protective organisation needed to ensure the safety of students, staff and their families."