French train services badly hit by strike

19th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Jan 19 (AFP) - French rail travellers faced a difficult morning commute on Wednesday as a strike by train workers disrupted service across the country, on day two of a rolling campaign of public sector work stoppages.

PARIS, Jan 19 (AFP) - French rail travellers faced a difficult morning commute on Wednesday as a strike by train workers disrupted service across the country, on day two of a rolling campaign of public sector work stoppages.

Only one in four RER suburban trains serving Paris and one in three high-speed TGV trains were operating, the state-owned SNCF said.

Regional rail service was also badly hit, but the Eurostar trains linking Paris and London were running on or close to schedule, and Thalys service to Brussels and Amsterdam was only slightly disrupted.

The strike got under way at 8:00 pm (1900 GMT) Tuesday, but commuters only felt the brunt of it during Wednesday's morning rush hour. The job action was due to end at 8:00 am on Thursday.

Unions representing some 170,000 rail workers are protesting against a 2005 budget that slashes 3,500 jobs - though the cuts would come through non-replacement of retiring staff rather than redundancies.

Didier Le Reste of the hardline CGT union estimated participation at 30 percent, a figure which he said would constitute a "serious warning for management and the government."

Supported by seven of France's eight rail unions, the strike comes despite an agreement worked out last year that was supposed to limit the number and impact of disputes on the rail network.

Unions have coordinated a succession of stoppages this week, accusing President Jacques Chirac's centre-right government of trying to roll back the public sector with a programme of liberalisation and budget austerity.

"People have been worried and unhappy for a while. At some point, that has to be expressed," said Jean-Claude Mailly of Force Ouvriere.

"When we look at buying power, the jobs situation, the future of the public sector, we see a lot of reasons to be pessimistic," he told France 2 television.

Postal workers started the protests on Tuesday to denounce a bill to open the state-owned La Poste to outside competition in accordance with EU directives. Unions said 20 percent of staff took part, but management put the figure at just 13 percent.

On Wednesday, workers at the state power and gaz utilities, Electricite de France and Gaz de France, were also due to walk off the job in protest at a reorganisation plan which they say could mean job cuts.

On Thursday some five million civil servants are being called out to demand a pay rise, with teachers - who have a separate dispute with the government over a new education bill - expected to be in the vanguard.

The campaign is being seen as a key test both of government resilience and of the unions' capacity to mobilise their forces after a year of relative social calm.

A large turnout this week would give momentum to a further day of action on February 5 to protest against government moves to water down the mandatory 35-hour week by giving private sector employees the chance to work longer.

The government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin - which came to power in 2002 - has said it will not back down from its programme of gradual economic change.

The government has also made clear that workers will forgo their salaries for the hours they are on strike - a novelty in French public sector disputes.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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