“They fired us like dogs”

The three women are not afraid to speak. On the other hand, they did not wish to see their photos published in our newspaper, for fear of reprisals or misappropriation of their image via social networks or filthy leaflets… That is enough to identify the climate of pressure, distrust and fear deaf which surrounds the affair of the employees ousted in 2022 in the high schools controlled by the Réunion Region, revealed by the editorials of Jacques Tillier, developed by the JIR and today brought before the courts by the SAFPTR or the agents’ lawyers.

Sudden replacements without notice

Beyond their differences in age and itinerary, the three former employees of the Réunion Region relate more or less the same sad story. A career in the maintenance sector of regional premises or high schools, the duration of which suggested permanent employment, even tenure, good grades… then a brutal replacement without notice, sometimes complicated with threats and humiliation. “I started small”remembers Nadège Grondin, who started in CUI contracts in 2014 for a few hundred euros per month, chaining cleaning posts in regional branches throughout the island, before going through the Roland-Garros high school, the high schools Ambroise-Vollard, the logistics department of the Region and the Pierre-Lagourgue high school in Tampon… After 8 years in the “box”, good references and the support of the management team, at the age of 48 she had high hopes of seeing its permanent employment – as allowed by the laws intended to fight against precariousness – or, at the very least, to be renewed.

“Don’t worry, you will be renewed”

A perspective shared by Clémence Fontaine, 39, employed at the Bois-d’Olives high school, mother of four children including a baby, and Brigitte Lépinay, 62, who worked in the same establishment. Among these three women, whom the previous term of office had assured of tenure and/or a future permanent contract, none said that they had received any letter from the Region announcing the end of their contract; none were invited to interviews relating to the continuation of their careers, which are compulsory in the event of non-renewal. Worse: all three claim to have received more or less identical calls from the inverted pyramid: “The said anou: don’t worry, as long as you apply for it, you will be renewed, your process is in progress”summarizes Nadège; “I was called to tell me that everything was going well”, confirms Clémence… even her bell on the side of Brigitte. Hence the relative serenity of the three employees, underpinned by seniority… and above all by confidence in Huguette Bello’s word. Because Clémence, Nadège and Brigitte have all heard the commitment made by the candidate to put an end to the “witch hunts” who have for too long accompanied the alternation within the Reunionese communities. “I said to myself, here we are, we have a woman in the Region, it’s going to be a different style, we’ll see…well, we’ve seen”said Clémence Fontaine sadly.

“He said he was going to touch me”

Before the expiry of her contract, she discovers that she has been purely and simply replaced by the agent recruited to take over the interim during her last maternity leave. To the surprise is added a misunderstanding linked to the identity and career of his replacement: it is, she says, Vincent Vienne, son of Axel Vienne, 5th deputy mayor of Saint-Joseph, community councilor of CASUD and regional councilor of the majority. The young man, she adds, would have left a stable position in a well-known hardware company to come to work in high school. “Why take my place and give it to someone who works?” she asks. She says she met her replacement during a convivial event organized by the establishment: paradoxically, it was he who would have poured out his heart with her, confiding his difficulties as a single father… The tone changes, reports Clémence, who contests his eviction, when his successor receives a letter from the judge. “He told colleagues that he was going to hit me if he found me”she says.

If she now stands at a good distance from her former establishment, Clémence is nevertheless determined to put forward her arguments and in particular the protection linked to maternity – “her rights as a woman”, she says. Rights that she says she pleaded with another woman, Céline Sitouze, 8th president of the Réunion Region in charge of education. “I fell from above”continues Clemence. “Madame Sitouze did not listen to me, refused to take my situation into account. She made me understand that, seniority or not, permanent contract or not, tenure or not, the majority had changed and that now it was their turn.”

Parents and activists of elected officials

The formula calls out particularly with regard to the situation of Jean-Claude Sitouze, brother of the elected official, who replaced Nadège Grondin at the Lycée Pierre-Lagourgue du Tampon. A non-renewal there again carried out without the interviews and notifications of rigor and without motivation, protests the former agent… Like Clémence, Nadège did not meet the one who succeeded him. “I had the covid”she says, “I was supposed to resume just after the start of the school year, but my colleagues called me to tell me that I had been replaced, and that given the atmosphere, it was better not for me to show my face.”

More than the kinship between the regional elected official and her replacement, it is the economic condition of the latter that surprises Nadège. “This gentleman has companies with his wife, a brand name linen store, very well known in Saint-Pierre, a micro-nursery in Le Tampon and perhaps yet another company… These are people who live well. Me, I only gets my unemployment and you know, it’s the Region that compensates, not Pôle Emploi… so it’s difficult to get paid, there are always difficulties, complications. I struggle with credits, whereas my position is taken by someone who is neither tenured nor in need.”

“At 62, it’s hard to find a job”

Back to Bois-d’Olives, where Brigitte, arriving one fine morning, found someone on her job, she tells us during a telephone interview. “She is an activist of Huguette Bello”, she says. There again, says Brigitte, no prior warning, no interview, no mail prepared it. The sky is falling on his head. “I was told that the old ones had priority, especially since we are trained in the covid protocol. In addition, I have been waiting for tenure since 2018…I started in CAE, worked at the Lycée François-de- Mahy, at Roland-Garros, at Bois-d’Olives, at CREPS…I have always been well noted she said, gripped by emotion. At 62, you know, it’s hard to find a job… and I don’t have the annuities… and I have the credit to pay, like everyone else… and I have the rent… and I have the bills…and you know, sir, I never would have believed…they kicked us out like dogs…and…”. And for a moment, at the end of the line, there is only silence.

Geoffroy G. Legros

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