French strikers say they won't roll out red carpet for King Charles

France  REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
© REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Public sector workers responsible for rolling out red carpets and hanging flags to welcome visiting dignitaries to France have joined the strikes protesting drastic changes to the French pension system – days before King Charles III is due to arrive in Paris.

Staff at France's National Furniture and Carpet Manufacture services were on strike on Thursday as part of a nationwide walk-out across sectors aimed at forcing the government to scrap its reforms. 

It comes as French President Emmanuel Macron prepares to welcome the British king and his queen consort, Camilla, on Sunday as they begin their first foreign visit since Charles took the throne. 

"We are well aware that France is hosting the King of England this weekend and our services will be requested. We say: this has nothing to do with protocol, it'll be without us!" the CGT Culture trade union, which represents many of the workers, said in a statement. 

It declared that its members would no longer provide "furnishings, red carpets or flag services", adding that they stood in solidarity with fellow culture workers in the UK, who have been striking for higher pay.

The walkout is limited, however: a spokesman for the National Furniture service told French news agency AFP that only 24 members of staff were on strike on Thursday, out of 420.

And a red carpet for the royal guests was delivered to the Elysée presidential palace earlier this week, a source told France Info

"The red carpet has been delivered and the trade unions have assured us that they will not block the work of non-striking staff," Loic Turpin of the National Furniture service assured – though it was not clear whether the Palace of Versailles and the Senate, where Charles and Camilla are also due to visit, had carpets ready too.

Furnishings aside, the royal visit risks being disrupted by rolling strikes in the transport sector, which may force the king to rethink plans to travel by train to Bordeaux and ride on the city's tramway.

An ongoing walk-out by refuse collectors in Paris, as well as the threat of protests, also threaten to overshadow his engagements in the capital. 

The French government is rumoured to be reconsidering its decision to host a state banquet for Charles and Camilla at Versailles, which Macron's critics have denounced as tactless in the middle of the largest street protests in years.

"We are keeping an eye on how things are developing politically and the security situation," a source at the British embassy in Paris told AFP. "That will continue right up to the visit."

In London, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesman told reporters on Thursday that Downing Street was "not aware of any plans to change the plan" concerning the king's visit.

(with wires)