French rail strike Wednesday

20th January 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 20 (AFP) - A strike over pay was expected to cause severe disruption to French rail services on Wednesday, as the government said it would press ahead with legislation to ensure a guaranteed service during public sector disputes.

PARIS, Jan 20 (AFP) - A strike over pay was expected to cause severe disruption to French rail services on Wednesday, as the government said it would press ahead with legislation to ensure a guaranteed service during public sector disputes.

The RER regional commuter network around Paris was braced for the worst trouble, with only one in four trains running. Around two-thirds of TGV fast train services were expected to operate and about half of Corail inter-city trains.

Four rail unions called the one-day stoppage to protest against a one-percent pay offer for 2004 and plans by the state-owned SNCF to shed 3,500 jobs, mainly in the ailing freight sector.

Union leaders said members were also concerned about the government's plans - spelled out in a new year address by President Jacques Chirac - to enforce a guaranteed minimum service for passengers, seeing it as an assault on their right to strike.

"Under cover of a 'minimum' or 'guaranteed' service, what is being targeted are the conditions for exercising the right to strike... Railway-workers are ready to join an inter-professional front to oppose this undermining of a basic right," said Didier Le Reste, head of the railway branch of the CGT union.

However Transport Minister Gilles de Robien told Europe 1 radio that the law was a top priority for the government.

"This is the social problem we have to resolve - how to give passengers a certain level of public service, even when there is a strike, without attacking the right to strike... Passengers have the double status of customers and taxpayers. They have the right to a fair return," he said.

According to de Robien, the law will be accompanied by new measures - including an internal "alarm system" at SNCF to detect budding disputes - in order to head off the large numbers of strikes by railway workers every year.

The centre-right government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin faced a series of strikes this week, starting on Tuesday with sporadic walk-outs by employees of the state-owned electricity and gas concerns EDF and GDF over privatisation.

The government hopes to change the companies' official status so they can be opened up to private capital in time for deregulation of the European Union energy market in July this year.

On Thursday airport workers are to go on strike, also over privatisation, although officials said little disruption was expected. Some hospital staff will be stopping work on Thursday to demand more jobs.

© AFP

                                Subject: France news

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