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France

French police announce strike action over poor working conditions

media French Police unions threaten rolling strike action from Wednesday 19 December 2018 THIERRY ZOCCOLAN / AFP

After more than a month monitoring Yellow Vest protests, French police officers who were already feeling overworked, say they have had enough. The third largest union UNSA-Police has urged its officers to stay at home on Wednesday, except in the case of an emergency.

"Roundabouts don't just belong to the Yellow Vests," the union said in a press release, in reference to the traffic chaos caused by the 'gilets jaunes' who have blocked roads in anger over rising fuel prices and taxes.

Police unions are hoping to mirror the Yellow Vest movement, despite the latter losing momentum on the fifth straight weekend of demonstrations.

"The Yellow Vest movement is about purchasing power," says Alexandre Langlois, the secretary general of the independent police union VIGI. "It would be a shame not to take up the issue, which concerns us all," he told RFI.

Tuesday's action is a prelude to three other demonstrations:

  • Wednesday, police stations are to remain shut
  • Thursday evening, a demonstration is planned outside the central police station in Paris' 8th district by a movement called the "blue vests"
  • Saturday, Act 1 of police demonstrations

Why are police officers angry?

Like with the Yellow Vests, they are unhappy with their purchasing power and working conditions.

The main police union Alliance has called for police stations to remain shut on Wednesday denouncing spending cuts of 62 million euros to the security forces in the 2019 budget.

Police officers are demanding compensation for hours of unpaid overtime.

"Currently we have 25 million hours of overtime that has still not been paid," explains VIGI's Langlois.

"The record at the moment is a colleague that has worked 15,000 hours of overtime, that means he's been working ten years for free."

On Tuesday, French authorities announced there would be a bonus of 300 euros for security forces deployed during the Yellow Vest protests in recognition of their "outstanding contribution."

Langlois doubts that this will make a difference. "Our daily life will not change, because we can't live on promises," he said, arguing that there needs to be changes to police officers' working patterns.

Suicide on the rise

"One day, you can be off on a Wednesday and then the following week it's a Thursday. It makes it difficult to plan ahead, you don't have a life," comments Langlois.

He blames this imbalance on spending cuts, which he says have had a psychological impact on police officers.

"There have been nine cases of suicide since the new interior minister [Christophe Castaner] started his job two months ago," says Langlois.

In October, his union launched an awareness campaign to alert authorities about the high suicide rate among officers.

"Every week, a colleague commits suicide," comments Langlois. "The government prefers to let us die than to address our working conditions."

Paying outstanding debt

The government met with representatives of France's three main police unions Tuesday night to respond to their concerns.

"The state currently owes 275 million euros to police officers in overtime (...) we cannot allow a debt of this amount to remain," Christophe Castaner, the French interior minister told France Info radio.

He declined to mention when this debt would be cleared.

"I cannot click my fingers and make 275 million euros miraculously appear (...) It will take some time, or even weeks, to find such an amount," he said.

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