The strikes will disrupt travel ahead of the Euro 2016 football championships
The strikes will disrupt travel ahead of the Euro 2016 football championships

France labour dispute: Rail workers strike as protests continue

BBC News : French railway workers are to go on strike as unions continue to protest against planned labour reforms.

This is expected to further disrupt a transport network already suffering from a shortage of fuel.

French President Francois Hollande has insisted he will not back down over the reforms, which aim to make it easier to recruit and dismiss employees.

Public sector workers in neighbouring Belgium are also going on strike on Tuesday over budget cuts.

The national strike there will see police officers, teachers and some civil servants join train drivers and prison guards, who are already on strike.

As well as budget cutbacks, the unions are protesting against changes to working hours and a rise in the retirement age.

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In France, further transport disruption is likely later in the week as Paris metro staff are due to begin indefinite action on Thursday and Air France pilots have voted to strike over pay.

On Monday, six of France’s eight oil refineries were still halted or running at reduced capacity due to union action.

Workers at the oil terminal in the northern port of Le Havre, which supplies Paris’s two main airports, have voted to extend their blockade until Wednesday.

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French labour reform bill – main points

  • The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average. Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46 hours.
  • Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay.
  • The law eases conditions for laying off workers, which is strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a downturn.
  • Employers to get more leeway to negotiate holidays and special leave, such as maternity or for getting married. These are currently also heavily regulated.

The CGT union is leading the action, supported by other unions including Force Ouvriere and Unef, whereas the more moderate CFDT union backs the labour reforms.

The CGT says the reforms will erode job security without bringing down the country’s 10% unemployment rate.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls – who has suggested the reforms could be “modified” – has cancelled a planned trip to Canada while Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has said he wants France to remain open for business.

Last week’s rallies saw clashes between protesters and police and the Paris tourist board warned that the scenes of violence risked putting off visitors.

“The scenes of guerilla-type action in the middle of Paris, beamed around the world, reinforce the feeling of fear and misunderstanding” after last November’s terror attacks which killed 130 people in Paris, it said.

However, 46% of French people remained supportive of the protests despite the disruption to their daily lives, according to a poll on Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

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