Striking lorry drivers are attempting to blockade refineries across France in protest against President Emmanuel Macron's work reforms. Connexion spoke to Alain Bourneuf, a lorry driver on secondment to the CGT Transport union, to find out more about what the drivers want.
Alain Bourneuf: "With these reforms, Macron hasn't taken into account the special working conditions of drivers. We have a special arrangement about overtime and with these reforms we stand to lose 10%."
Background Information: Lorry drivers fall into various categories: long-distance haulage, removals, messengers, delivery drivers, bank funds, drivers of passenger vehicles... overtime calculations for each of them are complex, as are the way in which working hours are calculated, taking into account hours waiting for loading, taking statutory breaks away from home, etc.
Alain Bourneuf: "We have had this extra 10% since November 1996, so why should we give it up?"
Background Information: Following months of strikes, in November 1996, the government agreed to negotiate working terms with drivers. In 1997, after more strikes, the government agreed to implement the reforms won by the drivers.
Alain Bourneuf: "We also have an exception when it comes to retirement. We don't retire five years early, we have a five-year paid holiday before retirement. And that's been overturned, but why should we lose this benefit?"
Background Information: Mr Macron has set out plans to equalise retirement ages and conditions across the board. In the past, for example, ’cheminots’ (railway workers) earned their retirement credits more quickly than other workers allowing them to retire earlier. Originally this was to compensate them for the exhausting job of running steam trains across France and often sleeping away from home. But now, Mr Macron says that everyone should be on the same retirement plan with no exceptions.
Alain Bourneuf: "Everything will be overturned and we'll all be the same. And with this new law, union staff representatives will be no longer chosen by the employees and there will be less of them. And there will be less people like me, but you need lots of representatives so that they cannot be bullied and manipulated by the bosses."
Background Information: All employers, with a workforce of 11 or more, in France are obliged to have a system whereby workers nominate a member of the workforce to represent them in discussions and, in larger companies, to also have union representatives.
Alain Bourneuf: "We are also protesting against the employment of foreign drivers, especially from Eastern Europe, who do our jobs for less pay because they are working on foreign employment contracts. We're not against foreign drivers themselves, we're just against them undercutting us because they're on foreign contracts. We're also against them paying social security contributions on money earned in France into social security funds abroad. We know that Macron says he wants to change this, but we want to put pressure on."
Background Information: Mr Macron has repeatedly said that he will push Brussels to reform EU laws on travailleurs dètachés (posted workers) who are employed in one Member State but carry out their duties in another.
Because minimum salaries vary across the 28 States, it is legally possible to employ a lorry driver in Poland, for example, at a much lower wage than in France. It is then legally possible for that driver to work in France, undermining wages and sometimes also employment conditions. Whilst respecting free movement of workers, and the freedom for companies to operate all across the EU, Macron wants to ensure that workers in Member States with higher minimum wages are not undercut by workers from States with lower wages.
Alain Bourneuf: "We're not fighting for new rights, or more money. We're fighting to keep things the way they are. We fought for these rights in 1996 and 1997 and we're fighting for them again. We want proper living standards, we don't want to be on the minimum wage (SMIC). But when we arrived to block the refineries, in many cases the CRS (riot police) were already there to prevent us parking our lorries. They said they were there to protect us, and to prevent any violence, but in fact they were there to prevent the blocus and we find that unacceptable. We have the right to strike and we will continue until we get a proper settlement."
Background Information: The government says that service stations are receiving petrol and diesel deliveries normally and that there is unfettered access to almost all France's refineries and depots. To facilitate deliveries during the strike, the government has also authorised more overtime for tanker drivers. Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne told press that although the government respected the right to strike, "there is no right to block [refineries]".
Alain Bourneuf: "The transport ministry has invited us to talks, so we're going but we'll still continue the strike. I think they are a bit frightened, actually."
Background Information: Ms Borne has said that drivers should not be afraid of the reforms which will not change their working hours or their pay.
Alain Bourneuf: "They have signed the ordinances for the changes to the Code du Travail, but they still have to be ratified. So we're hoping the Senate (upper house) throws them out and forces the government to renegotiate them."
Background Information: The French Senate is overwhelmingly dominated by the conservative, centre-right Les Républicains party, while the Assemblée Nationale (lower house) is overwhelmingly dominated by Macron's La République En Marche! party. He has the complete support of the lower house for his reforms, which were set out in his election manifesto. Many of them are in line with reforms long advocated by Les Républicains.