PARIS (Reuters) - Artists' models in Paris stripped naked on Monday, braving freezing temperatures to protest against a ban on tips and to demand better pay and recognition.
More than 20 male and female models, some posing nude while others were draped in a colorful array of shawls, sheets and fur coats, took part in the protest that had the backing of two of France's biggest labor unions.
The action was triggered by a recent decision by the Paris authorities to enforce a ban on artists' tips, known as "cornet" after the rolled-up cone of drawing paper in which painters traditionally dropped some money for their models.
"We're very badly paid and it's always been that way," said model Carole Kras, who joined others in the courtyard of a 16th century palace that houses the Paris cultural affairs offices.
"We've always had the 'cornet' to make up for some of that but now they want to get rid of it," she said, as shivering colleagues got dressed after briefly disrobing.
The demonstration was tiny compared with recent mass protests involving teachers, railway workers or public servants but in a city with such a long and rich artistic tradition, it carried extra resonance.
The models, who work for the city of Paris posing for students and professional artists, said the end of the "cornet" was the last straw.
"I don't really care about the cornet. What I want is to be better paid," said Kras, a full-time artists' model who has been doing the job for 15 years.
She said an average wage of 10 euros ($13) an hour for posing sessions that often lasted around three hours was inadequate. She added that models, classified officially as "special diverse personnel," wanted clearer professional recognition.
"It is a profession, it's tiring. Because it's physical, you need a lot of endurance and it's also expressive," she said.
"We're performers who play non-speaking roles, that's the way I always think of it."
Christophe Girard, an official responsible for cultural affairs at the Paris city hall, said authorities had no choice but to ban the cornet, which had been ruled illegal.
But he said he expected a solution would be found.
"We can talk about making up the shortfall in what they earn and we can see if the ministry would be prepared to consider recognizing this as a profession," he said.
Editing by Katie Nguyen