Strike against precarious employment at the Ministry for Culture

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After three weeks of industrial action, which forced the closure of the major national museums and historic sites, staff at France's Ministry for Culture protesting at job insecurity called a halt to their strike in early June 1999, until the forthcoming budget negotiations. They accepted a protocol agreement, which provides for a five-year plan to turn temporary jobs into stable employment.

Sites falling under the responsibility of the Ministry for Culture, such as national museums, the National Archives, the Arc de Triomphe and the Panthéon, were closed to the public for more than three weeks from 19 May 1999, due to industrial action by certain staff at the Ministry. This disappointed and angered tourists who were unable to visit many Parisian landmarks. The industrial action, which paralysed the major museums and historic sites in Paris, involved relatively few strikers and owed its success to the use of picket lines. An inter-union committee of employees formed by the CFDT, CFTC, CGT, FSU, SUD and UNSA trade unions spearheaded the strike and held negotiations with the Ministry for Culture. Demands centred on the creation of 1,000 new jobs and the phased-in granting of professional status to 2,000 workers employed in precarious jobs.

This industrial action was called with the aim of influencing budget negotiations due to take place in late June or early July 1999 within the framework of the finance bill for 2000. The fact that several strikes affected these same national museums and historic landmarks in 1998 indicates the deterioration of the industrial relations climate in the sector. The budget-related decisions taken jointly by the Ministry for Culture and the Ministry of Finance at that time failed to meet the strikers' demands. The inter-union committee took stock of previous failures, and on this occasion demanded a firm commitment from the Minister for Culture.

The rapid expansion of the Ministry for Culture during the 1980s, in particular in terms of the creation of new sites, has resulted in the regular use of temporary public employees (vacataires). The Ministry for Culture puts the number of such temporary workers at 1,700 out of a total workforce of a little over 20,000. Of the 1,700 workers in precarious jobs, approximately 1,300 are employed in unfilled permanent public service positions on maximum 10-month renewable contracts. The remaining 400 are employed on 10-month contracts that can be renewed only after a 14-month lapse between contracts. The Musée d'Orsay, which spearheaded the industrial action, employs nearly 100 temporary public employees out of a total workforce of 600. Around 10% of exhibition halls at the Louvre are closed on a revolving basis, due to staff shortages, but at the same time, more and more activities are being subcontracted to the private sector.

The unions called a halt to the strike in early June 1999, awaiting the outcome of the forthcoming budget negotiations. They accepted a protocol agreement, which provides for a "five-year plan" to turn the temporary jobs into stable employment. However, the issue of pay for the 18 days of strike remains unsolved, with the Ministry for Culture refusing to pay the workers for more than four days.

This was one of the most drawn-out strikes ever faced by the Ministry for Culture since it was set up in 1959. The estimated cost of the strike is put at FRF 16 million, with the Louvre alone accounting for half this figure. The strike highlighted the government's overall hiring policies and the quality of public services.

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