Energy workers protest butRaffarin firm on sell-off

29th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 29 (AFP) - French electricity workers briefly cut supplies to a major regional airport and staged a thousands-strong protest march through the centre of Paris on Tuesday as parliament prepared to pass legislation allowing limited privatisation of the power and gas industries.

PARIS, June 29 (AFP) - French electricity workers briefly cut supplies to a major regional airport and staged a thousands-strong protest march through the centre of Paris on Tuesday as parliament prepared to pass legislation allowing limited privatisation of the power and gas industries.

The workers unsuccessfully sought to shut down the Bordeaux-Merignac airport, while 3,000 employees demonstrated in Paris just hours before  parliament was to vote on a bill changing the status of state-owned Electricite de France (EDF).

However Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who has an overwhelming parliamentary majority, stood firm, categorically ruling out preventing passage of the legislation.

The bill before the National Assembly would change the status of the gas and electricity utilities from wholly state-owned enterprises into public corporations.

"I'm listening, but I'm not changing my mind," Raffarin told Europe 1 radio, adding a condemnation of what he called illegal acts carried out by  electricity workers, including the alleged sabotage of a switching station that threw the rail and metro system in Paris into chaos on Monday.

Raffarin called for the perpetrators of such acts to be identified and punished, saying that in this country "one does not oppose parliament with violence."

The prime minister said the government had done its utmost to listen to the workers and to preserve the public service status of the industries.

But workers are afraid that even if only 30 percent of the companies will be sold to outside companies they will lose their public service privileges, including retirement at 55 and lifetime job security.

Concerned that repeated attacks on the mass transport system is costing them the sympathy of the public, the four unions called for "popular and visible actions" including both work stoppages and the restoration of supplies to families cut off for non-payment.

But the interruption of supplies to the Bordeaux airport lasted only one minute at 3:00 am and services were reported unaffected. Strikers also cut power to several industrial firms around the airport.

The hardline CGT union, close to the communist party, claimed the action at the airport and several other outages at major industrial firms such as Dassault and Sogerma.

Unions said about 60 strikers had taken over an electrical plant near Grenoble, and had reduced supplies to five local companies.

The electricity utility EDF, Europe's largest power supplier and nuclear operator, has barged into privatized markets elsewhere in Europe and beyond, but so far has prevented significant competition on its own territory.

Under threat of legal action by the European Union, the government is adopting legislation that will partly privatize the utilities, end their state financial guarantees and open the internal energy market to limited competition.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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