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French union says too early to reopen schools, calls post-lockdown strike

An empty classroom in a closed primary school in Nice. The government wants schools to reopen gradually on 11 May, but the CGT union is calling for a delay until September.
An empty classroom in a closed primary school in Nice. The government wants schools to reopen gradually on 11 May, but the CGT union is calling for a delay until September. © Eric Gaillard/Reuters
3 min

The head of France’s hardline CGT trade union says schools should not reopen before September, instead of from 11 May when the government begins to lift the coronavirus lockdown. The union has filed a fresh strike notice until 30 May, listing demands that the government must meet before reopening schools. 

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When President Emmanuel Macron announced that confinement measures would be lifted on 11 May, he also said schools would re-open to help those students who have fallen behind during the lockdown.

For Philippe Martinez, the secretary general of the CGT trade union, reopening schools before September is not scientifically advisable. Speaking to Sud Radio, he said: “Our position, and also that of scientists… is that the return to school should be done in September”.

On Thursday, in a video meeting with mayors from across France, Macron said school returns would be gradual. Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquier had already outlined a three-week back-to-school timeline.

Macron added that it would be voluntary: parents would not have to return their children to schools if they are concerned about the virus.

Pressure on parents

This raises the concern of pressure from employers on parents, says Martinez.

“Parents who will not want, for valid reasons, to send their children to school, but who will have pressure from their employers to go back to work, how are they accounted for?” he asked.

It is not clear if parents will be able to count on full time school, whatever happens, as Blanquer has said class sizes will be limited to 15 students, and there will likely be rotations.

The government official in charge of lifting the lockdown, Jean Castex, is expected to present details in early May.

Strike notice

The CGT filed a strike notice for public service employees for the month of May, as it did for April, a move that was criticised by the government as “inappropriate”.

In a statement, the union said the 11 May "deconfinement" risks pushing people back to work even if security measures and proper testing is not in place

The notice is a protection for employees forced to work when proper health measures are not in place, it said in a statement, adding that “In schools as elsewhere, no protection, no work”.

The April notice allowed employees to “claim their rights”, by refusing to work if they felt unsafe, in the face of “intimidation”.

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