These labourers, working on station platforms in the Paris metro, are illegal immigrants. The conditions they work in, shown in the following videos, are simply deplorable.
Under the pretence that they wanted to send photos home, the labourers were allowed to bring a small digital camera along to work. They then passed their videos to French labour union CGT, who brought them to the attention of the media. The images show the workers removing concrete slabs from the station platform, and then resurfacing the ground with boiling tarmac. Bare armed, gloveless, without masks, without helmets.
Filmed in September on the platform of Porte de Saint-Ouen metro station in northern Paris, the video immediately caused a stir in France, where it was published by several online publications, which outlined that the company in charge of the metro, RATP, is state owned. The 23 men we see in the clip, most of them of West African origin, are employed by temporary employment agencies, and passed over to RATP subcontractor Asten. They have contracts, they receive payslips, they calculate and pay taxes, but they receive no social benefits.
RATP responded to the video on October 13, explaining that: "We make regular checks on worksites to ensure that security rules and working conditions are respected" and added that, "to our knowledge, no employee working on these sites is an illegal immigrant".
Since the beginning of last week, more than 3,000 undocumented workers in Paris have gone on strike to protest their right to official recognition.
“If there’s an accident, it’s the responsibility of the worker”
Sekou, 35, is originally from Mali. He arrived in France in 2001. He's been working on platform resurfacing in the Paris metro since 2006.
Our work begins by taking up the concrete slabs on the platform with a pickaxe. Once broken, the slabs, which weigh up to 50 kilos, have to be put into a skip. We carry the slabs up the stairs. Some of the stations are very deep underground - up to 60 metres, or a 15 to 20 minute climb. Most of the workers carry the slabs on their heads. Afterwards, two trucks arrive carrying 300°C tarmac, which we then carry down to the platform in buckets. We then resurface the platform. It has to be dry by 5am, when the metro reopens.
If there's an accident, it's the responsibility of the worker. In June 2007, I fractured my hand in trying to dodge falling concrete. I was operated on in a clinic, it cost 500 euros. After that, I had to take care of it myself - I wasn't earning for six months, as I couldn't work. Our employers know that we're undocumented - they take advantage of it by paying us 70 or 80 euros a night."
“Every platform of every metro and RER station in Paris, except for line 14, it’s all our work”
Gandega, 31, has been doing the same job since 2003. He's from Mauritania.
We're reduced to slavery. We have no medical visits, we're given
gardening gloves to work with, so we obviously have to buy our own, we have no
breaks, we stop for a few minutes only to drink some water.
Everybody knows we're illegal workers and that puts us under a lot of pressure. Sometimes, our employers put us on a one week contract, but then ask us to finish the work within two or three days. Then they pay us only for the days we've worked, not the week they signed for, despite the contract. If you complain, the site manager phones the employment agency and tells them not to take you again. Thankfully, we all stick together. We've already refused to work once after one of us was excluded. Every platform of every metro and RER station in Paris, except for the line 14, it's all our work."