Wednesday, February 11, 2009

France Names 2 Mediators to End Guadeloupe Strike

France names 2 mediators to end Guadeloupe strike

The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

PARIS: France's prime minister says two mediators will travel to Guadeloupe to help negotiate an end to a three-week strike paralyzing the French Caribbean island.

Workers went on strike in Guadeloupe on Jan. 20 to protest rising living costs.

An employees' union in the French island territory agreed over the weekend to raise the salaries of some 45,000 employees. But the deal fell apart after the union asked the government to help by lowering social charges.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Tuesday that social charges would not be decreased, but that his government would try to help the two sides reach a new agreement.

Unrest in Guadeloupe continues, spreads to Martinique

BASSE-TERRE, Guadeloupe – THOUSANDS of protesters marched yesterday (Feb. 9) in Guadeloupe and Martinique, adding to the unrest experienced in both countries as a result of industrial action.

According to BBC Caribbean, French government ministers are due to meet today (Feb. 10) to address the escalating crisis.

More than 10 000 people demonstrated in Guadeloupe, forcing local shops and businesses to close. The ongoing strike by petrol workers has precipitated the closure of petrol stations, and port activity has also been disrupted.

Insult was added to injury with the weekend departure of the French Minister with responsibility for the overseas territories, Yves Jego, who had promised upon his arrival in Guadeloupe that he would remain until a solution to the strike had been found.

Spokesperson for the striking organisations, Elie Domota described Jego’s return as “contemptible” while General Council Senator Jacques Gillot stated his revulsion at the abrupt departure.

During his time in Guadeloupe, Jego was involved in several meetings and negotiation sessions in an attempt to put an end to the crisis. He negotiated a preliminary agreement between employers and striking workers for a wage increase, which is to be signed into effect at an undisclosed date.

The French Minister said he had also negotiated 132 measures that would change the life of the people of the country. He concluded that his work within the territory had been done and that “a last stumbling block did not relate to the state, as it was a conflict between workers and employees”.

The dispute has spread to Martinique, where thousands of workers took to the streets to demand government action to address the high cost of living.

According to a statement released by his office, Jego is “following, day-by-day, the development of the situation in Martinique and will make all the contacts necessary to bring its inhabitants the same resolution that was achieved in Guadeloupe”.

Martinique nears weeklong protest over prices

Associated Press, 02.10.09, 03:35 PM EST

University students and artisans in the French Caribbean island of Martinique are protesting the high cost of living.

All major commercial centers, gas stations and businesses remained closed on Tuesday as the protest entered its sixth day.

Government officials have met with protesters, who demand a 30 percent overall reduction in prices. Union leaders have said they would agree to a 10 percent reduction among some products. No agreement has been reached.

Police have said that 11,000 protesters crowded the streets of Martinique's capital. Union leaders say it was more than double that number.

The nearby island of Guadeloupe has been paralyzed by a three-week strike for the same reasons.

Teachers vow to continue strike action until concerns addressed

~ EDF, France Télécom, Collectivité staff give support ~

MARIGOT--Classes and activities were suspended at the Lycée, Collège Mont des Accords and French Quarter Collège on Tuesday as around 100 teachers resumed their strike action for better working conditions for themselves and students.

All students were sent home for the day. Collège Mont des Accords was functioning in the morning, but closed at midday.

The strike, which is linked to the Guadeloupe movement, was initiated by Lycée teachers early Tuesday morning on the grounds union negotiators had not received any answers to their demands since the last strike on January 29 when about 300 teachers took part in a peaceful protest march.

“This is not a one-day strike. It will continue, but we don’t know yet for how long,” said Lycée business teacher Jessica Hamlet at a gathering outside the Lycée gates. “It is still about the same grievances. Working conditions are very bad here in the Lycée and other schools.”

She added: “We need more teacher training schemes and more powers from the Rectorat in the form of an annex here. We would like the Recteur’s representative Robert Romney to have more powers to do more instead of his having to refer our complaints to Guadeloupe. And we don’t want to be going to Guadeloupe every minute for training which can be done here. As it is, Guadeloupe is totally paralysed and the Rectorat not functioning. That’s why we need more autonomy.”

A meeting with Romney at which teachers hope they will receive some answers is set for February 15.

Security and safety in schools, renovation of the Lycée, shortage of qualified teachers and multilingual issues are also high on the list of their grievances.

Hamlet said teachers in St. Martin were also supporting the general strike in Guadeloupe that has the high cost of living as its central theme.

“The cost of living here in St. Martin is way too expensive – food, water, electricity, housing rents. We are using the Guadeloupe example to send out our demands to the Government to get a reduction in living expenses. The population is suffering and it’s about time something is done about it.

“Something has to be done about prices. Nobody is controlling prices and everybody is doing what they want. We want the Government to also send controllers here as they did in Guadeloupe to see why there is such a difference. Prices are sometimes four times higher here than they are in Guadeloupe or France,” she claimed.

Also supporting the strike on Tuesday was teacher and politician Marthe Ogoundélé, who voiced her opinions on the state of education and high cost of living. “We are also suffering. The population does need to get involved. If you want to bring prices down you have to fight.”

Asked if a movement similar to that in Guadeloupe could have negative consequences here, she said. “No, because you will never get what you want unless you fight for it. To get order you have to have a certain amount of disorder. I know for a fact schoolchildren are suffering, there are not enough canteens, and many issues that have to be addressed.”

Citizens Movement of St. Martin has joined in solidarity with the teachers, as have EDF, France Télécom, and representatives of the Collectivité staff. A peaceful march is planned for later this week in which primary schools are also expected to take part.

“The movement will get bigger, but it will be peaceful,” said Hamlet. “We just want to be heard.”

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