Firefighters’ strike over work rules is 'unprecedented’ in France

Nine unions unite over protest action for first time

It is the first strike coordinated by all nine unions that represented firefighters. Photo shows a protest in March 2023
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Nine firefighter unions have called for strikes and a protest in Paris in what is being described as an “historic” and “unprecedented” action. 

It is the first time that the unions have coordinated in this way.

The unions claim fire crews are overworked, understaffed and underpaid and that their health is seriously impacted, saying firefighters have a life expectancy of seven years less than the average French person.

They also want a better recognition of their work, including their exposure to cancerous chemical substances and better career prospects both for firefighters and for associated phoneline operators. 

When is the strike?

The strike is all day on Thursday May 16. 

They are also organising a protest in Paris at the Place de la République at 14:00, moving afterwards towards La Bastille and Nation.

Read more: UPDATED: Strikes in France: May 2024 dates and how you could be impacted

Why are firefighters striking? 

Among their demands, they want better recognition of the work they do, namely in terms of a health and safety policy that takes into account their exposure to pollutants, asbestos and fumes for example. Better psychological help is also requested and an increase in la prime de feu from 25 to 28% (risk compensation). 

They also lament the lack of sufficient numbers of staff, particularly because firefighters are forced to intervene when other services, such as the police or ambulances do not. They believe that firefighter numbers in Paris particularly are too low to keep all residents safe. 

Another complaint is that they should “receive fair treatment in terms of the Olympic Games”, said the CGT union in its strike announcement. Namely, this means being considered the same as police officers or other public servants for the Olympic Games and receiving the same bonus, considering that they are also constrained to work extra hours and not take holiday. 

They also want better career prospects, with the development of a profession in “the interests of staff by giving them real prospects for career development with a compensation scheme that recognises their skills”, as detailed by the CGT. 

Finally, they are requesting that the number of hours they work is reconsidered, in order to better protect their health and make the job more manageable.

Read more: Strikes in France: Why teachers are protesting May 14

Regulated strikes 

It is worth noting that firefighters cannot strike without guaranteeing a minimum level of service. 

This means that there will still be enough professional and volunteer firefighters on-call in the case of any fire or problem.

There were 254,800 firefighters in France at the start of 2023, with only 17% being professionals. There were almost 200,000 volunteer firefighters, which the unions are complaining is the same as in 1973, despite the number of interventions the firefighters make increasing considerably, with almost five million interventions in 2022.