French rail strike bites amid labor law standoff

Wed Jun 1, 2016 4:14pm EDT
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By Sophie Louet and Paul Taylor

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Striking rail workers halted about half of French train services on Wednesday in a dispute over working time as a standoff between the militant CGT union and the Socialist government over a proposed labor law reform escalated.

CGT members voted to start rolling strikes at the country's 19 nuclear power plants from Wednesday evening to press demands to scrap the labor bill, and airline pilots announced a work stoppage late next week in a separate dispute over pay curbs.

That would coincide with the first days of the Euro 2016 soccer championship in France.

Tension mounted between the CGT and the Medef employers' federation, with the union urging energy workers to cut power supplies to the bosses' Paris headquarters.

The SNCF state railway said six out of 10 high-speed TGV trains were running, along with one-third of other inter-city services and half of regional trains. Eurostar trains to Britain were not affected, while 75 percent of services to Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland were running, and about 40 percent to Spain and Germany.

Three of the four rail unions called their members out on an open-ended strike over a planned reorganization even though the government has intervened to press SNCF management to protect train drivers' weekends off. Managers say that concession could make the heavily indebted company uncompetitive when it has to open up to private competition in 2020 under EU rules.

A letter sent by Transport Minister Alain Vidalies to the UNSA trade union said the government was determined to find a solution to ease the 50 billion euros debt burden of the SNCF state railway and will present possible solutions to parliament in August.

SNCF said 17 percent of its staff were on strike, up slightly from a previous strike last week, and forecast similar levels of traffic for Thursday. The CGT is also on strike at oil refineries and one-fifth of petrol stations are short of fuel.   Continued...

French TGV trains (high speed train) are parked at a SNCF depot station in Charenton-le-Pont near Paris, France, May 31, 2016 as railway workers from the France's rail-operator SNCF will start a national railway strike on Tuesday evening.  REUTERS/Charles Platiau