French rail traffic back in motion after strike

21st November 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 23 (AFP) - Rail traffic was resuming across France on Wednesday after the unions behind a nationwide strike made headway in talks with the state rail company, while a planned walkout failed to disrupt the capital's metro network.

PARIS, Nov 23 (AFP) - Rail traffic was resuming across France on Wednesday after the unions behind a nationwide strike made headway in talks with the state rail company, while a planned walkout failed to disrupt the capital's metro network.

The rail strike, called over fears of privatisation at the French rail operator SNCF, brought major disruption to domestic and international train services on Tuesday.

While only about half of high-speed and regular inter-city trains were running on Wednesday, the state rail company SNCF said 60 percent or more of Paris commuter trains were operating.

Eurostar and Thalys trains serving London, Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne were running normally.

A separate walkout planned on the Paris metro had almost no impact on Wednesday morning, officials said, with virtually normal levels of service on all lines.

The open-ended national rail strike, called for an initial 24 hours, was organised by four unions to ostensibly protest what they see as preparations to privatise the SNCF, a claim strongly denied by the government.

Union members were meeting on Wednesday to decide whether to continue the action, the sixth strike this year, following a series of concessions by the management of the state rail company SNCF in talks on Tuesday.

One of the unions, the FGAAC, called on its members to return to work, saying the SNCF management had agreed to address its concerns about night shifts for train drivers.

All four unions said they were encouraged by the outcome of negotiations with the SNCF management on Tuesday.

As bargaining chips to avert a drawn-out labour conflict, the SNCF notably offered a EUR 120 cash bonus, a salary increase and the hiring of 950 new staff.

SNCF chairman Louis Gallois, in an interview on Europe 1 radio, said that he hoped the "low participation" in the strike would help to promote a culture of compromise within the company.

According to the SNCF, only 22.8 percent of rail workers joined the stoppage, although the CGT, the main union behind the strike, estimated the figure at 30 percent.

Gallois also said he deplored the fact that "it took a strike in order for reasonable proposals to be accepted."

But the secretary-general of the powerful CGT-rail union, Didier Le Reste, said the one-day strike had been a success and had paved the way for "real negotiations and answers to our demands."

"The government was forced to come out of the woods, including Jacques Chirac," he said, referring to a rare intervention by the president on Tuesday, who sought to reassure unions that the SNCF would remain in public hands.

The strike action provoked a backlash against the CGT, with several newspapers suggesting that CGT leaders were using the strike to jockey for power with the rival union SUD ahead of a union conference.

Despite the frustration of commuters, however, the national federation of transport users, FNAUT, voiced broad sympathy with the strikers' concerns and accused the government of under-investing in the rail network.

Quoting a recent audit, FNAUT said the government needed to pump an extra EUR 600 million into the rail infrastructure each year to prevent some 10,000km of lines from becoming unusable within 15-20 years.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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