French police press for multimillion in overtime pay

Policemen stand guard during a demonstration of students in Paris, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018. France's interior minister is to meet with representatives of police unions, following complaints about working conditions and calls for a work slowdown over what unions say are strained resources after five straight weekends of sometimes violent protests. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS (AP) — French authorities are suggesting they will bow to demands by police officers for decades of overtime pay, but officers nevertheless engaged in go-slows Wednesday, including at France’s biggest airport, seeking to ensure that the payback matches intentions.

French police dragged their feet at passport check-in lines in at least one terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport, creating long lines of waiting passengers, while elsewhere in the Paris region some police stations were responding only to emergencies. The extent of participation by stations was unclear.

The airport police prefecture said the slow-down was currently hitting only Terminal 1. The prefecture said police were working but taking their time with “deep checks” of passengers. The airport authority advised passengers to allow extra time.

The delays came as the Alliance police union called on police officers across France to handle only emergencies amid negotiations with the Interior Ministry for compensation after weeks containing often-aggressive protests by a grassroots movement. Police have also been called on for extra duty following a deadly attack last week near the Strasbourg Christmas market that has led to increased surveillance around France.

At least two other unions were encouraging slow-downs.

The Interior Ministry opened quickly put together negotiations on Tuesday that were to continue Wednesday.

The French government proposed giving 300-euro ($340) bonuses to officers deployed to the protests by the yellow vest movement that started in mid-November, after French President Emmanuel Macron committed to the idea of protest duty pay earlier this month. However, police union representatives pushed for more, notably compensation for years of overtime duty never paid out.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the sum amounts to nearly €275 million euros ($313 million), and includes decades of unpaid overtime, but suggested demands would eventually be met.

“We don’t have a right to have a debt like that,” the minister said, and his top lieutenant, Laurent Nunez, said Wednesday that negotiators and unions are trying to find a “settlement plan.”

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said on BFMTV that “it seems legitimate that they be paid” for what he said was “extremely difficult work.”

France’s national police have long complained about being overworked, under-appreciated and underpaid, and have tried to press their cause in the past to no avail. However, their current high profile has put them in a unique position to negotiate.

Castaner has called police into the streets in near-record numbers to counter five Saturdays of yellow vest protests. Police daily survey traffic roundabouts where protesters slow traffic.

Roundabout blockades by members of the yellow vest movement are slowly being dismantled by police, but die-hards were maintaining their posts. The movement takes its names from the fluorescent safety vests they don — required equipment in all cars in France.

In addition, police are being asked to up surveillance of France’s Christmas markets and other sensitive areas after the Strasbourg attack that killed five people.

“We’re fed up in general,” said Cyril Thiboust, a regional official with SGP Police union at a blockaded station at Mantes-La-Jolie, west of Paris. He denounced on BFMTV “a true lack of respect” and unfit working conditions around France.

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