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French public sector strikes against six-year pay freeze

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls Reuters/Charles Platiau

The French government on Thursday said it would not back down on its freeze of public-sector pay as unions called on the country’s 5.5 million public servants to strike and demonstrate against a measure that will mean no pay rises until 2017.


As the national statistics institute, Insee, announced zero growth for the first quarter of the year, the minister responsible for the public sector, Marylise Lebranchu, ruled out a change of tack, at least until “growth takes off again in our country”.

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Prime Minister Manuel Valls had the same message for unions in a letter earlier this week, saying that the sacrifices the government is demanding so as to balance the budget must be “fair and shared equitably”.

Unions say that the pay freeze, which started under the previous right-wing government in 2010 and which Valls’s Socialist government has prolonged until 2017, is “unacceptable”, arguing that when inflation and a rise in pension contributions are accounted for it means a fall in real income.

The government argues that a one per cent across-the-board pay rise for its employees would add 1.8 billion euros to state spending as it aims to cut expenditure by 50 billion euros before 2017.

It awarded a pay rise to the lowest-paid public servants at the beginning of the year.

As well as a one-day strike, more than 110 demonstrations have been organised by a united front of five union groupings across the country on Thursday.

Unions are also protesting at a freeze on recruitment in all sectors apart from justice, police and education, claiming that means cutting others back to the bare minimum.

France’s public sector in figures:

  • The French state employs 5.5 million people;
  • That’s 22.5 per cent of the workforce, higher than the OECD average of 16 per cent but lower than the Scandinavian countries, where it is 23-30 per cent;
  • The wage bill in 2012 was 80 billion euros;
  • That’s 23.6 per cent of public spending, per head of population 11th in the OECD;
  • The average monthly salary was 2,459 euros in 2010, compared to 2,082 euros in the private sector;
  • 700,000 public-sector workers earn the minimum wage and 17 per cent are on short-term contracts.


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