The survivors of a once numerous and feared profession – the dames pipi or "peepee ladies" who preside over public toilets in Paris – have been to court to defend their jobs from tourist-friendly modernity.
A Dutch “toilet concept” company has won the contract to manage the last four staffed public conveniences in the French capital. The company, called 2theloo, plans to convert them into a “hyper-clean, non-touch environment” with shops and modern artworks allowing visitors to “make the absolute most of their toilet break”.
Out will go the women who have traditionally managed Parisian toilets with a bucket and mop, disdainful look and a sharp tongue. In will come young, smartly dressed, multilingual toilet operatives.
The 11 remaining dames pipi, who have been picketing their workplaces in protest for the past three weeks, appeared before a Parisian employment tribunal to defend their jobs and their profession.
Abbes Keddir, a senior delegate in the Force Ouvrière union federation, said: “There are employment rights and laws in France. You can’t just dump these kind old ladies who have been cleaning up people’s piss for 30 years.”
One of the women, Gabrielle Adam, 62, said: “We’ve been used to dealing with all sorts of people, the good, the bad and the disgusting, those who shit on the floor or piss outside the pot. I’ve been dealing with it all since 1986. It’s tough, but I’ve done it willingly. Now they want to throw us away like old rags.”
The Dutch company, which manages 150 toilets in 13 countries, says it is prepared to meet the women and offer jobs to those whom it considers suitable, but it refuses to take account of their past service. It insists that 2theloo is far more than just a toilet-cleaning operation – and is not bound to take on its predecessor’s staff, who earn the minimum wage of about €300 (£219) a week.
However, when 2theloo adopted the same approach in Paris’s railway stations in January it was brought before a labour court – and lost. Judgment in the most recent hearing was postponed.
There were once scores of free public toilets in Paris, managed by a dame pipi for a small salary and tips. Since the 1970s, they have been steadily replaced by automatic, self-cleaning booths resembling giant cigarette lighters.
Only four staffed toilets remain at tourist hotspots: the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre, Notre-Dame cathedral and two on the Champs-Élysées.Reuse content