The fear and rising anger of French job centre staff after colleague was shot dead

By Cécile Hautefeuille

On Thursday January 28th a supervisor at a Pôle Emploi employment centre in south-east France was shot dead, sending a shock wave of alarm through all branches of the government agency. Staff had already seen growing violence and tension in their branches from disgruntled job seekers, a discontent that has been further fuelled by the Covid-19 crisis and its impact on the economy. As Cécile Hautefeuille found out, fear among job centre staff is now rapidly turning to anger.

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“I'd already played that scenario out in my head so many times. A person comes into the agency. And opens fire …” Alexandra has been an advisor with the French government employment agency Pôle Emploi for seven years. She works at a branch in the Paris region and says that she “doesn't feel safe” in her workplace. And especially not on the days where she is in charge of reception. The shooting of a Pôle Emploi manager who was murdered at a branch at Valence in south-east France on Thursday January 28th therefore sent a shiver of fear through her. “I didn't sleep. My heart was pounding furiously,” she said. Meanwhile Sylvie Espagnolle, an official at the CGT trade union which has members at Pôle Emploi branches, said: “Everyone told themselves: that could have been me. That could have been any one of us. There's huge shock and sadness.”