AP NEWS
Related topics

Striking Teachers Prevent Exams in France

May 19, 2003

PARIS (AP) _ Striking teachers in southern France prevented students from taking part of their high school graduation exams Monday, disrupting the centerpiece of the country’s education system.

The action, part of nationwide protests by public sector workers against government pension reform plans, split the union movement and drew angry reactions from government leaders.

Also Monday, about 335,000 public sector workers, including postal and state-owned France Telecom employees, marched through Paris and other French cities Monday to protest plans to reform the retirement system _ in part by making teachers and other public employees work longer to qualify for full pensions.

A Paris protest drew at least 38,000. Another 25,000 marched in the southern city of Marseille. At least seven other cities and towns saw marches with more than 10,000 people.

At the Deodat de Severac high school in the southern city of Toulouse, about 100 teachers chained and padlocked the entrance and urged colleagues not to supervise the exams, known as the baccalaureate.

The action prevented students from taking elective sports tests that are part of the high school graduation exams. However, some students pursuing a technical diploma in chemistry were able to slip through a back door and take their exams, the school said.

Bernard Deswarte, a geography teacher and member of the FSU union in Toulouse, accused the government of trying to strong-arm teachers back to work by refusing to reschedule exams until after a deal has been stuck on pension reforms.

He said that by forcing teachers to effectively choose between putting students’ future in peril or halting the walkouts, the government was violating their ``right to strike.″

Nearly 2,000 college students at the nearby University of Perpignan were also unable to take scheduled exams Monday because of teacher protests, the university said. It said the exams would be rescheduled.

Education Minister Luc Ferry denounced the teachers.

``We cannot accept that they take students hostage by boycotting exams,″ he said in an interview published Monday in daily La Croix. He threatened punitive action for dereliction of duty.

The secretary general of the FSU union, Gerard Aschieri, said blocking exams ``is not a good strategy″ but urged the government not to make the situation worse by issuing threats. He called on the government to launch a new round of talks before the main exam season gets under way in a month.

Last week, walkouts by transport workers shut down much of France, leaving air travelers stranded and forcing Paris commuters to stay home or walk to work.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin’s government wants to end the privileged status of public sector employees by requiring them to work for 40 years to gain full retirement pay, putting them on a par with private sector employees.

The government has warned the retirement system will collapse within 20 years if not changed because the growth in the number of retirees is outpacing that of workers who contribute to the system.

The government won a small victory in its battle to overcome organized labor’s opposition to the reform when one of France’s larger unions, the CFTC, said Monday that it would not join more demonstrations planned for Sunday.

The head of the union, Jacky Dintinger, told the newspaper La Croix that instead they would lobby lawmakers for changes to the proposed reforms.

AP RADIO
Update hourly