French transport hit but Euro 2016 chaos fears ease

2nd June 2016, Comments 0 comments

France was rocked by fresh protests Thursday, but fears of transport chaos during the Euro 2016 football tournament eased as airport workers cancelled a walkout and a Paris subway strike had little impact.

Rail users were still facing major disruption as an open-ended strike entered its third day, with around half of trains cancelled barely a week before Euro 2016 kicks off on June 10.

But unions' hopes of bringing the transport mayhem into the heart of Paris appeared to have failed, with only minor disruption caused by a subway strike.

And air traffic controllers called off a walkout due to hit over the weekend after reaching a deal on work conditions with the government.

Although each of the strikes has its own motivations, the unions are united in opposition to the Socialist government's new labour reforms that have sparked three months of often violent protests.

More demonstrations against the reforms -- which the government says are designed to make France more business-friendly -- were set to take place in major cities on Thursday and nuclear power workers were back on strike at 16 of the country's 19 power stations.

The country was dotted with union blockades, including outside a Renault factory in Rouen and a major naval shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, while police clashed with protesters blocking a ring road in the southwest city of Toulouse.

The unions still have plenty of opportunities to cause headaches for the government during the football tournament, which also poses a major security challenge in the wake of last year's jihadist attacks in Paris.

One union representing Air France pilots has already threatened a walkout starting on June 11 that could last up to four days.

- 'Let's talk' -

The government remained defiant, with Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri vowing Thursday: "We will not withdraw the bill."

The powerful CGT union has previously demanded that the reforms be dropped entirely but appeared to be open to the possibility of a compromise.

"If the government says tomorrow 'let's talk,' the strikes will stop," CGT head Philippe Martinez said Wednesday.

Railway operator SNCF said 15 percent of its staff had walked out as part of the rolling strike, with more than two-thirds of inter-city trains and nearly half of high-speed TGV services again cancelled on Thursday.

Trains to Spain and Italy were heavily affected, but there was little impact on Eurostar trains to Britain and other international services.

Severe flooding around Paris and in the Loire Valley after days of torrential rain added to the misery.

An elderly woman was found dead in her flooded home in Souppes-sur-Loing in central France, parts of which have been hit by the worst flooding in more than 100 years.

Despite the disruption to their daily lives, 46 percent of French people still support the unions' calls, an opinion poll in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed Sunday.

- 'Weighing on economy' -

The government has vowed not to capitulate to the unions, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls has decried the "waste" caused by the strikes.

"This conflict is weighing on our economy at a time when the actions of the government are allowing a rebound, growth and a fall in unemployment," he told parliament on Wednesday.

The French government says its new labour law is aimed at reducing stubbornly high unemployment and making the struggling economy more business-friendly.

But unions are furious the government rammed the reforms through the lower house of parliament without a vote, and have called for another national day of strikes in two weeks when the bill goes before the Senate.

They say the law favours bosses by letting them set their own working conditions for new employees, rather than being bound to industry-wide agreements, allowing companies to cut jobs during hard times and go beyond the 35-hour work week.

Despite the often violent demonstrations, President Francois Hollande has refused to scrap the legislation and has criticised the unions for tarnishing France's image.

Despite his deep unpopularity in opinion polls, Hollande is considering standing for re-election in elections next May.

© 2016 AFP

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