The threat came as President Francois Hollande's government
faced other unrest, with train unions due on Tuesday to launch a
24-hour strike to protest a reorganization of the rail system.
Taxi drivers will on Wednesday join a one-day demonstration in
major European capitals over competition from chauffeured cabs.
France's summer festivals draw hundreds of thousands of visitors
and include renowned events such as the Avignon Theatre Festival
and Aix-en-Provence's opera festival - both of which were
canceled in 2003 during an earlier bout of strike action.
Hollande wants to narrow the multi-billion-euro deficit in
France's Unedic unemployment fund as part of wider moves to get
France's public finances back into shape as agreed with European
But festival workers - known as "intermittents" - have long
refused any change to arrangements they argue are vital to
supporting French culture, and say reforms agreed in March will
make it impossible for many of them to eke out a living.
Earlier this month they launched strikes in the southern city of
Montpellier that have already caused cancellations of events in
its "Springtime of Actors" Festival, and the CGT union is
calling for a nationwide strike on June 16.
"Montpellier on strike today, all of us on strike tomorrow,"
read a banner outside Paris Opera Bastille this weekend, where
protesters delayed the start of the Verdi opera "La Traviata."
Prime Minister Manuel Valls nominated a mediator to try to
defuse the crisis. The mediator's proposals will be submitted to
the labor and culture ministries in two weeks.
France's some 100,000 casual festival workers have a special
status under law. Although they only represent 3.5 percent of
job-seekers, their unemployment compensation is two times higher
than the average and in itself creates a deficit which amounts
to a quarter of Unedic's annual shortfall of four billion euros.
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While workers say the nature of festival schedules means they
undergo long periods of unemployment for which they should be
compensated, France's main employers' group, Medef, considers their
benefits to be akin to a government subsidy.
Under the reform worked out by Medef and some unions in March,
festival-workers will see their unemployment contributions rise and
many will have to wait longer after the end of each temporary job
before they can receive benefits.
Theatre actor-director Jacques Allaire told Liberation daily that
France's cultural identity was at stake.
"It's not only about a fight for rights but for a model of society,"
said Allaire. "And what about this betrayal from a government of the
UNEDIC is financed directly by contributions from workers and
employers, with any shortfall made up by borrowing. Because the
state guarantees UNEDIC's bonds, its debt counts towards total
government debt but not the annual public deficit figure.
Stubbornly high unemployment of over 10 percent has strained
Unedic's finances and meant its total accumulated debt is set to
rise to 24.9 billion euros next year.
Hollande - the least popular French leader in the 56-year-old Fifth
Republic - is trying to find 50 billion euros in budget savings over
the next three years in order to meet EU-mandated deficit-reduction
goals, but faces pressure from voters and left-wing lawmakers to
ease up on austerity measures.
($1 = 0.7345 Euros)
(Reporting By Alexandria Sage; editing by Mark John)
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