Talks to avert French rail strikes before Euro 2016 break down
All-night talks to end France’s six-day rail strike have failed to reach agreement, threatening disruption of train services during the Euro 2016 football championship which begins on Friday.
Most other aspects of France’s three weeks of industrial strife have calmed in recent days but two militant rail unions are refusing to call off a strike which has forced the cancellation of up to half of train services in the last week.
Some progress was said to have been made in 17 hours of union-management talks in Paris ending in the early hours of Tuesday but no final agreement was reached. The four main rail unions have been given a week to sign a new framework agreement on working conditions in the industry.
Two moderate unions have indicated that they will sign. The two most militant unions, CGT and SUD, criticised aspects of the agreement but said they would consult their local branches.
On Monday, 1,000 railwaymen and women and hard left sympathisers invaded the tracks at the Gare de Montparnasse in Paris and held up trains for 20 minutes. Members of the militant CGT trade union federation splattered the economy minister Emmanuel Macron with eggs when he visited the eastern Paris suburbs.
Governmnent officials said that these actions reflected the “desperation” and isolation of a minority of militant workers who knew that support for their protest movement was waning.
The petrol shortage caused by refinery strikes and panic buying two weeks ago has ended. Workers at several refineries have voted to return to work. Paris Metro and rubbish collectors’ strikes have had little impact so far.
The continuation of the rail strike – supported by only one in ten rail workers – would nonetheless be a serious blow to the government. Hundreds of thousands of football fans from all over Europe may find it hard to travel around France by train if the strike continues after the opening of Euro 2016 on Friday.
The minority of strikers, belonging to the militant CGT and SUD union federations, are heavily concentrated in key jobs such as drivers and guards. They have managed to prevent 40 per cent of main line trains and a higher proportion of suburban and regional trains from running in recent days.
The strike, which is costing the French railways €20 million a day, is connected to the wider protest by militant unions against reforms in French employment law. More specifically, it is an attempt to preserve, and even improve, the special rights of all rail workers before France allows open competition to the state-owned rail company, the SNCF, from 2020.
President François Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls have pressured the SNCF management to cave in to many of the specific union demands – while refusing to give way on the wider reform of employment law. As a result, two unions have pulled out of the rail strike in the last week.
Rail workers in France already have special pension rights and short working hours. Train drivers retire at 50. The militant unions were demanding, amongst other things a 32 hour week for all rail staff.
Independent News Service