French teachers strike for more pay and support as schools stay open during Covid

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Thousands of French teachers went on strike Tuesday to denounce their low pay and degraded work conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic. The government has proposed a wage increase, but teachers say it is not enough to compensate years of low salaries and their being on the front lines of the epidemic.

A third of middle and high school teachers were on strike on Tuesday, according to trade unions. They were joined by school nurses and students on marches in Paris and other cities across the country.

Covid has “highlighted the important and essential role of school” in French society, wrote the Snuipp teacher’s union, which has denounced the way the government has managed the Covid-19 health crisis, with “a lack of anticipation, and denial of infection numbers of staff and students.”

Schools have remained open in France, even as neighbouring countries have closed their doors. French teachers see themselves on the front lines and “feel abandoned”.

But the strikers’ main call is for salary increases. New French teachers earn seven per cent less than those in other OECD developed countries.

The government has recongised this, and education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer in September said 400 million euros would be given to teachers, who would see bonuses as of January.

"What the minister has done is not satisfactory,” says Benoît Teste, general secretary of the FSU union. “It’s essentially communication, with a surface increase, which is not enough.”

Unions would like to see multi-year, permanent raises, which were promised during the pension reform debates that preceded the Covid crisis.

At the time, it became clear that teachers would be the big losers in the pension reform, and the government had accepted the need to increase salaries across the profession.

Blanquer has called for a “Grenelle”, or national consultation, on education to start in February.