PARIS, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Thousands of French supermarket workers went on strike on Friday to demand higher salaries and better job conditions, unions said, reflecting growing concerns over rising prices and falling household spending power.
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s popularity has slumped mainly due to anger that he has done nothing to put money back into French wallets since he was elected last May.
The strike by supermarket employees was the latest in a series of protests by European workers who want to see salaries keep in step with higher food and energy prices and which have central bankers warning against inflationary wage claims.
France’s supermarkets and hypermarkets employ around 636,000 people. The Force Ouvriere union said 80 percent of hypermarket workers went on strike on Friday, slightly more than 65 percent in supermarkets.
An employer’s group, the federation of commerce and industry (the FCD), said the strike call was well followed but its president, Jerome Bedier, said the number of participants was “much lower” than the figure provided by the unions.
The Auchan supermarket chain said around 1,800 workers had taken part in the strike out of 50,000 in the company.
The unions say some supermarket workers have a salary that can work out at less than the minimum wage (SMIC), a charge denied by supermarket bosses.
Auchan said in a statement it “respects and has always respected the SMIC”, with the lowest salary starting at 105 percent of the minimum wage.
The unions will meet on Monday to discuss how to follow up the protest, which is also aimed at Sarkozy’s plan to look into introducing Sunday opening hours. (Reporting by Noelle Menella; Writing by Anna Willard; Editing by Janet Lawrence)