France train chaos as labour unrest spreads

2016-06-01 20:32
A man wearing a mask of French President Francois Hollande raises his fist as striking employees of the state-owned rail operator vent their anger. (Jeff Pachoud, AFP)

A man wearing a mask of French President Francois Hollande raises his fist as striking employees of the state-owned rail operator vent their anger. (Jeff Pachoud, AFP)

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Paris - Transport chaos hit France on Wednesday, just nine days before the Euro 2016 football tournament, as railway workers went on strike in the latest salvo of a months-long battle between the government and unions.

Around half of France's trains were cancelled as workers from railway operator SNCF launched their eighth strike in three months...this time saying they will continue until demands for better pay and conditions are met.

Few trains

"It's a nightmare today (on Wednesday) even more than the other strike days," said Christine, a SNCF worker surveying the chaos at Ormesson station in the Paris suburbs, where commuters were struggling to squeeze on to one of the few trains that had shown up.

The strike has piled further pressure on the deeply unpopular Socialist government, which has been besieged by months of protests and work stoppages over a controversial labour reform bill.

Subway workers in the capital were planning to walk off the job from Thursday followed by Paris airport staff over the weekend.

Philippe Martinez, head of the powerful CGT union, said on Tuesday that this week would see "the strongest mobilisation in three months" of strikes.

Adding to the chaos, one Air France pilots' union threatened to hold a two- or four-day strike from the day after Euro 2016 kicks off on June 10.

Since March, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in demonstrations that have frequently turned violent, while about a fifth of France's petrol pumps ran dry last week as CGT activists blockaded refineries and depots.

Energy group Total faces losses of "tens of millions of dollars per week" from blockades at its five refineries, according to a report.

Although most have been cleared, workers at an oil terminal in the northern port of Le Havre, which supplies kerosene to Paris's two main airports, extended their blockade to Wednesday.

The protests have cast a shadow over preparations for the month-long Euro championship, which is expected to attract over a million foreign visitors and has already been dogged by security fears following last year's jihadist attacks in France.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls decried the "waste" caused by the strikes.

High unemployment

"This conflict is weighing on our economy at a time when the actions of the government are allowing a rebound, growth and a fall in unemployment," he told parliament.

The French government says its new labour law is aimed at reducing stubbornly high unemployment and making the struggling economy more business-friendly.

But unions are furious that the government rammed the reforms through the lower house of parliament without a vote and have called for another national day of strikes in two weeks when the bill goes before the Senate.

Read more on:    manuel valls  |  france  |  transport

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