France: Unions prepare to mobilise in face of uncertainty caused by COVID-19

published 14 January 2021 updated 15 January 2021

French education unions have called for a more robust and effective health policy as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. They are also seeking a recognition and improvement of educators’ working and living conditions.

On 12 January, the Confédération générale du travail (CGT) Educ’action, the Fédération syndicale unitaire(FSU), the Fédération des syndicats généraux de l'Education nationale et de la recherche-Confédération française démocratique du travail(SGEN-CFDT), the Syndicat national des lycées, collèges, écoles et du supérieur (SNALC), the Syndicat national des collèges et des lycées(SNCL), Sud Éducation and the Union nationale des syndicats autonomes-Éducation(UNSA-Éducation) reiterated their concern about keeping schools open and warned of the need to anticipate all possibilities.

"The implementation of enhanced protection must be planned now,” the unions said in a joint statement. “Avoiding the mixing of pupils, the operation of school canteens, the ventilation of rooms, large-scale tests, the isolation of positive and contact cases and the layout of premises must be taken into account in the plan prepared."

Recruitment, information, and decisiveness

They also emphasised that the recruitment of additional and permanent staff must be increased immediately. This recruitment should start with candidates for the competitive examinations registered on the supplementary list and with education assistant (AED) jobs.

In addition, staff must be informed, particularly about the maintenance of appropriate organisational arrangements in many high schools beyond 20 January.

The unions also requested quick decisions on the organisation of exams, "so as not to leave pupils and staff in uncertainty", as well as the postponement of the March exams.

Finally, they also asked for clarification on the vaccination policy for education staff "which cannot be improvised at the last minute".

UNSA-Éducation: Breach of trust

At the end of 2020, UNSA-Éducation highlighted how the overall context was “particularly difficult, with the combination of an unprecedented health crisis, the social and economic crisis it is generating, and the terrorist threat". It noted "a strong breach of trust with staff for the Ministers of National Education, Youth and Sport on the one hand and Higher Education, Research and Innovation on the other."

The union continues, however to try to obtain a response to teachers’ demands, "by negotiating and signing a memorandum of understanding for higher education and research staff that will significantly enhance the careers of our colleagues within the next seven years". It is also demanding "a multi-annual programming law to enable the upgrading and recognition of all education staff".

The UNSA said it was confident that, "a few months before the end of a five-year period that has seen the trust of education staff grow ever smaller, it is still possible to provide elements that will lead to recognition and respect".

SNES-FSU: Call for a collective action by education staff

The SNES-FSU, for its part, joined an inter-union alliance with Force Ouvrière, the CGT Educ’action, the SNALC, SudÉducation, and the SNCL to call for a strike on 26 January.

For this inter-union alliance, "a phantom upgrading of the profession, 1,883 redundancies in secondary education at the start of the 2021 school year, reforms which are damaging our jobs, chaotic management of the health crisis, and the Grenelle de l'Education consultation which turned into a fiasco...that's enough!”

Frédérique Rolet, Secretary General of the SNES-FSU, recalled that her union "has never ceased to plead for a truly protective protocol. It warned of the need for anticipation, staff requirements, teaching programmes and of the untenable timetable of examinations. The Minister [of Education Jean Michel Blanquer] has treated all this very lightly and has constantly denied the problems. It took a major strike to wrest away the possibility of working in groups, the only way to avoid crowded canteens and classrooms.”

She added that the Minister "ignores staff working conditions and equality issues. On 26 January, through the strike, the staff will bring him back to reality”.