Rail strike drags on as conciliation talks to start

21st November 2007, Comments 0 comments

21 November 2007 PARIS - France's rail strike dragged into its eighth day Wednesday, but talks were set to take place between unions, management and government representatives, raising hopes of a deal. The state-owned SNCF rail company predicted a slightly improved service -- with around 400 out of 700 TGV fast trains running -- while the RATP Paris metro operator expected about one train in four. The number of strikers has been in steady decline since the dispute over pensions reform began a week ago, and

21 November 2007

PARIS - France's rail strike dragged into its eighth day Wednesday, but talks were set to take place between unions, management and government representatives, raising hopes of a deal.

The state-owned SNCF rail company predicted a slightly improved service -- with around 400 out of 700 TGV fast trains running -- while the RATP Paris metro operator expected about one train in four.

The number of strikers has been in steady decline since the dispute over pensions reform began a week ago, and on Tuesday stood at 27 percent at SNCF and 18 percent at RATP.

Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand said he was hopeful the talks would herald the end of the strike. "I think the conditions are there for everyone to get out of it honourably," he said.

Didier Le Reste, of the General Labour Confederation (CGT), said Wednesday's negotiations would be the start of a month-long process.

"Some strike meetings around the country have voted to suspend the action, others to keep it going to maintain pressure on the negotiations. Our decision rests with them," he said.

On Tuesday President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed to stand by his economic reforms and urged strikers to return to work.

"One must know how to end a strike once the time for discussion has come. Everyone must ask whether it is right to continue a strike which has already cost users -- and strikers -- so dear.

"I think of those millions of French people who after a day of work have no bus, metro or train to take them home and who are tired of being used as hostages," he said.

Ministers have said they will not yield on the core of the reform which is to increase contribution periods for the 500,000 beneficiaries of "special" pensions systems so that they are in line with the rest of the population. Currently they retire two and a half years earlier.

But the government has suggested salary rises and top-up pension schemes could sweeten the pill, and SNCF management has said a 90 million euro a year financial package is available if the strikers return to work.

Pressure increased on the government Tuesday when hundreds of thousands of state employees staged a day-long strike to demand higher pay. Students are also protesting about a new university law, and magistrates are campaigning against plans to close some local courts.

The rail strike is costing up to 400 million euros (590 million dollars) a day, the government says.

AFP

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