Terror, not strikes, is main Euros threat: Hollande
French president focuses on attacks rather than industrial action chaos
Published 01/06/2016 | 02:30
François Hollande yesterday dismissed calls to scrap a controversial labour reform to save the upcoming Euro 2016 football finals from chaos, saying the "biggest threat" to the football tournament in France was "terrorism", not strikes.
The French president's tough message to hardline unions, in particular the leftist CGT, came hours before the country's rail operator, SNCF, launched a rolling strike that will see roughly half of its trains cancelled for the foreseeable future.
Workers' unions in Paris's Metro are due to follow suit, starting tomorrow, while those in civil aviation are due to call a three-day strike, starting on Friday, over pay and conditions.
Air France's pilots' union has also called a "long strike" for sometime in early June over pay and job cuts.
Transport woes are set to compound problems linked to last week's blockade of fuel depots which left motorists queuing at many petrol stations.
Six of France's eight oil refineries were still halted or running at reduced capacity due to union action yesterday.
Meanwhile, workers at the oil terminal in the northern port of Le Havre - which supplies kerosene to Paris's two main airports - voted on Monday to extend their blockade until today.
Even so, petrol shortages appeared to have eased significantly yesterday.
The transport stoppages come days after protesters clashed with police in Paris and other major cities over the new laws, which make hiring and firing slightly easier.
But despite the threat of disruption to the European football championships, which start on June 10, Mr Hollande said the reform bill "will not be withdrawn".
"The text assures the best performance for businesses and offers new rights to employees," he told 'Sud Ouest'. "I consider it necessary to see it through to its conclusion."
Last week, Philippe Martinez, the leader of the CGT, issued a veiled threat, saying: "We're not going to stop people going to see the football matches, but the government has to be prepared to discuss. Everything is in its hands."
However, Mr Hollande insisted that the main threat "remains terrorism" - not strike action.
French intelligence recently warned of Islamists' desire to let off bombs in public places, while security services have mounted several major training exercises in case of terror attacks in train stations or stadiums.
Tourism industry representatives in the French capital and elsewhere have warned that the industrial action is seeing visitors cancel their bookings en masse to the world's most visited city, which is only just recovering from a downturn in the wake of the November terror attacks.
"The scenes of guerrilla-type action in the middle of Paris, beamed around the world, reinforce the feeling of fear and misunderstanding," the tourist board said.
SNCF said that around 60pc of TGVs would be running, around 40pc of suburban trains, a third of intercity trains and half of regional services.
The London to Paris Eurostar is due to run normally, but services from Paris to Brussels and Spain will be affected.
Neighbouring Belgium also faced growing disruption yesterday from a public sector workers' strike.
With no resolution in sight, Pierre Gattaz, head of the Medef employers' federation, accused the CGT on Monday of behaving like "thugs and terrorists".
In equally vitriolic terms, one of the union's factions then likened the prime minister, Manuel Valls, to "Pétain, Franco and Mussolini".
Myriam El Khomri, the labour minister, denounced the war of words, saying: "Unfortunately in our country we very often opt for a culture of conflict.
"That's why this law precisely aims to foster and put into place a true culture of compromise."
The dispute in France centres on measures designed by the government to reduce unemployment by adding more flexibility to the labour market.
Companies would also be able to negotiate terms and conditions with their workers rather than be bound by industry-wide agreements.
Unions are also furious that the government drove the reforms through the lower house of parliament without a vote. They have called for another national day of rallies and strikes on June 14, when the Senate begins examining the law.
The conflict comes a year before presidential elections in which Mr Hollande may seek a second term - despite recent polls suggesting he is France's most unpopular post-war leader.