France: Education workers take to the streets against the downgrading of their pay

published 27 January 2022 updated 1 February 2022

Many education unions are part of the multi-union group that launched the cross-sector call for strike action on wages and pensions in France. They are demanding pay rises, defending jobs and working conditions and deploring the fact that in the public education sector salaries are being so starkly downgraded.

After a strike of unprecedented size on 13 January to demand adequate health conditions to protect against COVID-19 in schools and an improvement in the status of teachers, the mobilisation of national education staff continued on 20 January.

At the call of a multi-union group - the Confédération générale du travail (CGT), Force ouvrière (FO), the Fédération syndicale unitaire (FSU), Solidaires, the Fédération indépendante et démocratique lycéenne (FIDL), the Mouvement national lycéen (MNL), the Union nationale des étudiants de France (UNEF) and the Union nationale lycéenne (UNL) – the education unions will be taking action on 27 January to demand an increase in wages and pensions.

In their joint press release, the trade union federations point out that “no one can be unaware of the social and economic context, the increases in the cost of basic necessities, energy and food, and finally the cost of living for everyone, young people, working people, job seekers and pensioners.”

Only wages, pensions and benefits continue to stagnate or even decline due to inflation

They condemn the fact that “only wages, pensions and benefits continue to stagnate or even decline due to inflation, while the link with skills levels is being lost, in both the private and public sectors”.

They also observe that “although in some sectors and companies, mobilisations and negotiations have made it possible to obtain wage increases, all too often negotiations are still at a standstill or employers’ proposals fall far short”.

At the same time, they regret that the government has persisted with its reform of unemployment insurance which, in their view, will result in too many employees being locked into low-paid, part-time or fixed-term contracts.

Particular concerns for pensioners and young people

The trade unions also stress that pensioners are still waiting for a response on an immediate increase in their pensions, both basic and supplementary. The last revaluation capped them at a level far below inflation.

They further demand that young people, “confronted with highly precarious conditions of life and work, and with poverty aggravated by the health, economic and social crisis” be given a response in face of the liberal reforms of education, training and unemployment insurance decided by the government.

They conclude: “It is urgent and essential that we all act together through strikes and demonstrations to press for an immediate increase in all salaries in both the private and public sectors, for allowances for young people in training and in search of work, as well as for an improvement in pensions for the retired.”

Salary downgrading behind the recruitment crisis in teaching

For the SNES-FSU, it is clear that “renewed inflation is eating into salaries and pensions. In the national education system, the wage gap is undeniable. This downgrading of salaries is one of the major explanations for the recruitment crisis. The need to address our salaries is urgent: everyone on strike on Thursday 27 January!”

The need to build a broader platform to express social and wage demands

For Frédéric Marchand, Secretary General of the National Union of Autonomous Education Unions (UNSA), although not part of the multi-union group that called for the strike on 27 January, his union federation maintains that “with the end, now possible, of the acute health crisis, the time has come to build a broader platform to express social and wage demands”.

UNSA believes this social moment will “crystallise” in the coming months, before and after the presidential and legislative elections. The 2 February meeting of its National Bureau will decide on the best strategy for action in the coming months.

“Beyond 1 May, which will have particular social significance this year, action to demand wages, salaries and pensions, both before and after this date, is becoming essential. In this post-COVID period, UNSA will work with others to build the most united and effective actions possible,” insists Escure.

UNSA's proposals on purchasing power and pay are available here (in French).