Undocumented workers demonstrate in front of the Monoprix on rue de Belleville in Paris in October 2021 | Photo: DR CGT Trade Union
Undocumented workers demonstrate in front of the Monoprix on rue de Belleville in Paris in October 2021 | Photo: DR CGT Trade Union

Hundreds of undocumented workers in the Paris region have been on strike since Monday to demand legalization of their employment status. Employed in catering, delivery and waste collection, they have been on the front line during the pandemic.

These undocumented workers work in commerce, catering, delivery, cleaning or temporary work. Their jobs are in Paris and also in Essonne and Seine-Saint-Denis.

The General Confederation of Labour (CGT), which is coordinating the strike, held a meeting between the management of Paris's Café Marly and undocumented dishwashers who are employed there as "extras" on Thursday.

Read more: French postal service company 'treats us like slaves,' say striking migrant workers

At Targett, a temporary employment agency in the Latin Quarter in central Paris, there is no picket line because an agreement was reached. "The company will provide the necessary documents to request work permits for undocumented workers," Marilyne Poulain, from CGT, told the French News agency Agence France Presse (AFP).

Other operations, however, were still "at a standstill." This is the situation for Monoprix, the delivery platform Stuart, and the waste collection company Sépur, Poulain told InfoMigrants.

"Sépur denies having employed undocumented migrants, even though the labor inspectorate is currently investigating the matter," she says. "This is the third conflict we have had with them in eight years. This is not a situation that can be brushed aside with a wave of the hand."

Many of the undocumented workers at Sépur continued to work on the front line as garbage collectors during the various coronavirus lockdowns.

Essential workers

For others, the pandemic has been synonymous with increased insecurity due to the fact that they did not have an official contract and could not avail themselves of benefit payments. This is the case for 33-year-old Makan, who has worked as an "extra" at Café Marly since he arrived in France in 2018. He had tears in his eyes, he told AFP, about the seven months of lockdown, from October 2020 to last May. With the restaurant closed, he had no work and did not receive a cent in pay.

Read more: Refugees cook meals for France’s frontline workers and the most vulnerable in the coronavirus crisis

"In my life, I have never had to struggle like this, even when I was a student in Mali," adds the man who says he was helped by his brothers to get enough food to eat. He is now demanding a permanent contract to have papers, and so that his employers "don't take advantage of the situation anymore. We want to work regularly, and pay our contributions regularly, like other employees," he adds.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns have opened up a debate about the place of frontline workers in French society, where many essential jobs are held by undocumented workers.

Read more: France: Hundreds of undocumented migrant couriers ask to return to work

"The strike allows us to highlight all these sectors concerned with the employment of immigrant workers, with or without a residence permit," says Poulain. "These are essential jobs but the working conditions are difficult and dangerous. The goal is to make employers face their responsibilities and improve the working conditions of all workers."

For years, undocumented workers in France have been demanding that their situation be regularized. In 2019, a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of them mobilized in the Paris region, including employees at Chronopost. In January 2020, after nine months of struggle, they finally lifted their picket line after obtaining legal papers.


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