Police chief Laurent Nunez late on Wednesday informed mayor Anne Hidalgo – who sides with the workers – that the government would use its power known as “requisition” on striking trash collectors, forcing them back to work under threat of prosecution.
Around 7,600 tonnes of rubbish were piled on the streets of Paris by Wednesday, according to city hall figures.
Workers walked off the job in protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the pension system, with headline measures of raising the legal retirement age to 64 and increasing the number of years people must pay in to receive a full pension.
“The demand of Paris rubbish collectors, who don’t want to work for two years longer… is fair,” Hidalgo said.
“The only answer that could calm the current climate is social dialogue, rather than a test of strength,” she added.
Her deputy Emmanuel Grégoire told French media: “Requisition would not work, we do not believe in it … we are not going against the exercise of the right to strike as long as there is no danger to the lives of others or to public health, and we’re making sure that’s not the case.”
Private waste collection company Derichebourg said on Wednesday that it would stop filling in for city binmen after it was threatened with pickets on its depots.
The ‘requisition’ is a rarely-used power, coded into law in 2003, that allows the government to order back striking workers if there is a threat to national security or safety.
It has only been used a handful of times since 2003, including in October 2022 when the government ordered oil refinery workers back to end the blockade that was causing fuel stations across France to run dry.
The power must be balanced against the right to strike, which is enshrined in the French constitution, and is usually only used if there is a threat to the health, safety or security of the nation.
Previously long-running waste-collectors strikes in Paris and other cities have not seen this power used.
Rubbish collectors have run one of the few rolling strikes against the changes, where other sectors have held successive one-day walkouts accompanying mass demonstrations.
The hard-left CGT trade union federation claimed 1.7 million people hit the streets nationwide on Wednesday, while the interior ministry’s count was 480,000.