“I don’t know if the government realises that we die before others do,” said Daouda, a 49- year-old waste collector. Since 6 March, he and his Parisian colleagues have been on strike against France’s pension reform to raise the retirement age by two years.
Today, waste collectors who are employed in the public sector are allowed to retire at 57, because of the physical exertion demanded by their occupation. The new law will increase this to 59. For those employed by private companies, the age will jump from 62 to 64.
“People have no idea of what this profession involves,” says Pascal, 64, a retired waste collector, who joined the picket line in Ivry-sur-Seine, in Paris’s suburbs, to support his former coworkers.
Isabelle Salmon, a medical practitioner who has written a PhD about working conditions of this profession, argues this job “is probably one of the most trying, because it combines physical constraints with uncomfortable postures and exposure to the weather.”
Going on a continuous strike is a hard decision to make. David, 49, a waste collector, says he will face problems paying his rent. Due to his strike action, his employer will withdraw at least 14 days from his 1,400 euro monthly wage. He hopes that it will be worth it, and that the government will finally give in to the workers’ demands.
Like his colleagues, David must work in all conditions. These key workers have not forgotten the morning after the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015 or the first Covid lockdown in March 2020.
“At that time, with Covid, the government promised to change its policy for front-line jobs,” remembers Christophe Farinet, a waste collector and vice general secretary of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT). “Not only for us, but also for the cashiers, security guards and cleaning staff, who can’t afford to go on strike today. Three years later, this is where we are.”