French diplomats hold second strike
PARIS, Dec 18 (AFP) - French diplomats around the world on Thursday held their second strike this month against foreign ministry budget cuts they complain are undermining efforts to boost France's standing on the world stage.
Embassies and consulates from Beijing to Berlin were affected by the 24-hour strike call, which was issued by unions keen to follow up the ministry’s unprecedented walk-out on December 1 sparked by government cost-cutting.
But the level of participation was generally lower on Thursday than during the previous strike.
The continuing disruption was an embarrassment for the French foreign ministry, which runs a diplomatic network that is second in the world only to that of the United States, with 154 embassies, 98 consulates and nearly 500 cultural offices and French-language schools.
From its lavish headquarters on the Quai d’Orsay, the foreign ministry employs 9,200 permanent staff, plus 6,000 teachers in French lycees abroad and several thousand locally-hired workers.
But workers in France and abroad complain that they are not being given the means to adequately do their jobs. Many note that the workload has increased as France boosts its profile on the world stage, particularly following the confrontation with the United States over Iraq.
At the Quai d’Orsay, the lack of resources was exposed last month when the ministry ran out of paper, and union officials say many lifts in the building are out of order because of lack of money to fix them.
In next year’s budget the foreign ministry gets a small rise to EUR 4.2 billion (USD 5 billion), but this is due to a big increase in foreign aid and masks a cut of two percent in running costs and 116 job losses.
In Beijing and New Delhi a minority of staff left their posts, in contrast with missions in Vietnam and Japan where most if not all stayed away.
Three-quarters of the staff in the embassy in Manila were on strike but consular services were operational.
In Europe, Africa and the Middle East the strike call was followed to a lesser degree.
Very few diplomats in the Athens, Madrid and Berlin embassies were said to be striking, while in London, the embassy’s press office said all diplomats had turned up to work.
An embassy official in Budapest said “several diplomats” were on strike but did not give a figure, while calls to the embassy in Belgium went unanswered.In Paris, union leaders organised a small protest of around 200 workers after breaking off talks with ministry officials on the issues behind the labour unrest.
The Cairo embassy said eight of its 13 diplomats were on strike. In Algeria, almost none of the embassy and consulate staff walked off the job, but 80 percent of cultural staff did so.
Missions in Canada, the United States and Latin America were due to open later Thursday.
The first strike this month resulted in around 56 percent of foreign ministry staff going on strike around the world – though many, including five ambassadors, stayed at their posts.
The six unions covering the workers issued a statement saying that action “had an exceptional impact in France and abroad” but that, despite promises from Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin to address the problem, talks had yielded no solution.
Sticking-points remained recent cuts in housing allowances and salary bonuses, as well as the scaling back of cultural programmes abroad.In Japan, where the cost of living is among the highest for expatriate ministry staff, the strike call was followed enthusiastically, with 30 of the 45 diplomats taking part.
“This is a general movement which crosses over all personnel categories. We feel that the work in the embassies is not respected,” said one diplomat there who declined to be named.
“It’s questionable whether they (French government officials) really want us to keep our dynamic brand of foreign policy.”
Subject: France news