French unions plan strikes to dis­rupt trains, ports, flights

Arab News - - INTERNATIONAL -

PARIS: Trav­el­ers be­ware: French la­bor unions plan a string of strikes in the com­ing days that will tar­get trains, the Paris sub­way sys­tem, ports and pos­si­bly air­ports.

Unions are tap­ping months of pub­lic anger over a la­bor bill that would make it eas­ier for em­ploy­ers to fire work­ers and lengthen the work­ing week.

They’re hop­ing the timing of the walk­outs, which start with train ser­vice Tues­day, will in­crease pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment to with­draw the bill: They’re hap­pen­ing just as France pre­pares to host the month-long Euro 2016 Euro­pean soc­cer cham­pi­onship, which be­gins June 10 and is ex­pected to draw 2.5 mil­lion peo­ple to sta­di­ums around the coun­try.

Signs emerged in re­cent days that both sides might be ready for com­pro­mise, af­ter Prime Min­is­ter Manuel Valls spoke with the head of the CGT union, whose hardleft flank is lead­ing the protest move­ment.

The de­gree of strike-re­lated chaos will de­pend on how many work­ers take part. Unions have staged sev­eral strikes this year, but typ­i­cally only a mi­nor­ity of staff par­tic­i­pates, and a 2007 law re­quires a min­i­mum level of ser­vice on all trans­port dur­ing strikes.

Work­ers at the SNCF rail authority — whose ser­vice will be cru­cial to Euro 2016 spec­ta­tors — go on strike start­ing Tues­day night. The Paris tran­sit authority, RATP, starts strik­ing Thurs­day. Air traf­fic con­trollers are threat­en­ing to join in start­ing Fri­day.

Fuel short­ages are an­other con­cern. Strik­ing work­ers have blocked or slowed pro­duc­tion at most of France’s eight re­finer­ies, and dis­rupted oil im­ports at ports around Mar­seille on the Mediter­ranean and Le Havre on the English Chan­nel.

Block­ades at fuel de­pots last week caused na­tion­wide ga­so­line short­ages, but the sit­u­a­tion has eased some­what since the gov­ern­ment ordered po­lice to clear out protest­ing work­ers.

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