French student unions challenge Macron over huge rises in the cost of living!

French riot police clash with students on a demonstration against President Macron

WITH inflation and the increase in the cost of living, the French student unions are challenging the government on the eve of the start of President Emmanuel Macron’s new five-year term.

In its latest survey on the cost of student living, published in mid-August, the UNEF (Union Nationale des Étudiants de France) reveals some alarming figures.
‘An overall increase of 6.47% – which varies according to the items of expenditure but is always oriented upwards – represents an additional budget of 428.22 euros compared to the start of the 2021 school year,’ calculates Samya Moktar, vice-president of UNEF.
This represents an increase of 35.70 euros per month.
Student living is the most expensive in Paris (1,332.52 euros payable), Nice (1,113.73 euros) and Lyon (1,089.48 euros), and Limoges is the cheapest, according to UNEF figures.
In addition to accommodation and food, there are compulsory registration fees: 170 euros for a bachelor’s degree, 243 euros for a master’s degree for French and European students. For foreign students outside the EU these fees are 1,170 euros and 2,770 euros.
According to UNEF, in five years, the cost of living for a young person in training has increased by 16.8%.
‘The government’s response was to reform personalised housing assistance, (APL), cutting it by 63 euros per month, says UNEF.
In January, the government granted 150 euros of inflation bonus, today, it promises a returned bonus of 100 euros, but UNEF says that ‘what is really needed are structural measures.
‘The pandemic and inflation have exacerbated the student crisis, but the real causes are cyclical. Queues in front of food distribution points have not disappeared with the end of confinement.
‘If the Covid-19 crisis, and now inflation, make things worse, we must stop believing that these are the only explanatory factors,’ insists UNEF spokesperson Samya Moktar.
‘There are always students who are hungry and have to work, accept precarious jobs in order to be able to eat and live in a dignified manner,’ also notes Alexandre Fels, co-pilot of the youth collective at the giant French trade unions federation Confederation Generale du Travail (CGT).
The Confederation published a youth plan in June, and one of the key measures proposed is the creation of a flexible autonomy allowance to guarantee decent living and studying conditions – also a UNEF demand.
Nearly three out of four students are excluded from the scholarship system, and nearly a third of scholarship holders (31.8%) are confined to the minimum level and receive 103.20 euros per month, while the maximum level (which concerns less than 7% of scholarship holders) is equivalent to 567.90 euros per month.
Just like the CGT, the UNEF is calling for the establishment of an autonomy allowance for young people in training or in the process of integration.
It estimates that at 1,102 euros per month would be enough to live on, find accommodation, get medical treatment, go out, and study peacefully – it also calls for free transport.

  • The Conference of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted, on June 21, 2019, Convention No. 190 and its Recommendation No. 206 concerning the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of work.

Adopted by a large majority, it constitutes the first binding international text aimed at combating harassment and violence at work and thus enshrining the right ‘of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment, including violence and gender-based harassment’.
The CGT represented French employees on the working group on this new standard and have since been campaigning for its adoption and the changes needed in French labour law to push it through
According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) survey, by the end of 2023, 50 governments will have ratified this convention.
France is committed, by law no. 2021-1458 of November 8th, 2021 ‘authorising the ratification of Convention no. 190 of the International Labour Organisation relating to the elimination of violence and harassment in the world of Labour,’ to sign this agreement.
However, France has still not ratified the convention and for it to be truly efficient and effective, France would have to change the law, and in particular labour law.
The government claims that the existing laws are already quite sufficient to protect women at work.
‘This is false’ says the CGT ‘and the figures show it:

  • 80% of women are victims of sexism at work;

  • 30% sexual harassment at work;

  • Every day, 10 rapes or attempted rapes occur in a workplace. The government only looks on!’

‘The CGT is demanding concrete and binding measures to put an end to violence at work.
‘They are in this convention and its recommendation.
‘In particular, we require:

  • The obligation to train personnel managers and “human resources” and to raise employee awareness each year;

  • Sanctions for companies that do not negotiate a prevention plan with the unions;

  • Rights to protect victims of domestic violence: 10 days of paid absence to take steps, right to geographical and functional mobility, prohibition of dismissal;

  • Means to support victims by strengthening the prerogatives of personnel advisers and by allowing employee advisers to intervene in companies in which there are no employee representatives personal.

‘To promote this Convention No. 190 and its Recommendation No. 206,  let us sign and share this petition initiated by the European trade unions.’
Meanwhile, the CGT has also announced: ‘From March 27 to 31, 2023 in Clermont-Ferrand will be held the 53rd Congress of the CGT.
‘In addition to the renewal of the confederal leadership, this event will above all be an opportunity to prepare for the future, outline our prospects, define our strategy and our union approach for the next three years.
‘The involvement of all activists in the preparation of the Congress will be the essential condition for the CGT to be, more than ever, in direct contact with the field, with daily reality.
‘Since the last Congress, in 2019, there has been no shortage of struggles:

  • pension reform;
  • freedoms;
  • jobs;
  • wages…

‘All of these subjects illustrate the dissatisfaction and opposition of workers to the choices imposed on them.
‘These various fights have shown the ability of employees to unite and make themselves heard. Unfortunately, these struggles have not always been successful
‘The period was also marked by the health crisis experienced as a planetary electroshock. Covid has upset the organisation of work.
‘It has also provoked a questioning of the social model and favoured the emergence of new demands. The desire for a new relationship to work, social and environmental issues are now at the centre of workers’ concerns.
‘All these questions will be at the heart of the debates at the Clermont-Ferrand Congress.
‘The world of work has undergone a profound change. How can the CGT build a balance of power so that the workers do not lose out?
‘How to make trade unionism live on a daily basis when the markers are blurred between private life and the workplace?
‘One of the answers may be the convergence of struggles by working in concert with the other forces of progress in unions, associations or politicians.
‘Our next Congress will be the perfect time to discuss it.’