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France tries to resolve strike woes before Euro 2016

By Guy Jackson | AFP News-7 June 2016

This picture taken on June 6, 2016 shows a tagged road board reading, "Let's block everything, all on strike" in Lille, France
This picture taken on June 6, 2016 shows a tagged road board reading, “Let’s block everything, all on strike” in Lille, France

French rail unions were holding make-or-break talks with employers late Monday to try to end a six-day strike that threatens to disrupt the Euro 2016 football championships.

Preparations for the tournament are already clouded by security fears, which grew Monday as Ukraine announced it had arrested a Frenchman who was allegedly planning multiple attacks to coincide with the competition.

Ahead of Euro 2016’s kick-off Friday, France is still struggling with the impact of the rail strike, which combined with recent heavy flooding in Paris and other parts of the country to leave train services severely affected on Monday.

To make matters worse, Air France pilots are threatening a four-day strike from June 11 in a long-running internal dispute over pay and investment in the airline.

French President Francois Hollande, whose unpopular Socialist government has been hit by three months of strikes and protests over its labour reforms, called for an end to the damaging industrial action.

The strikes “are causing disagreements amongst our compatriots and give an image of France that does not conform to reality, when France is the premier tourist destination in the world”, he told La Voix du Nord newspaper in an interview to be published Tuesday.

“The government has shown its willingness to have a dialogue,” he added.

Unions say the offer on the table from state-run rail operator SNCF is “not up to the mark”.

As the talks continued into the night, at least some of the rail strikes were set to roll into a seventh day, with only about forty percent of inter-city trains running.

Hollande warned Sunday that the rail workers and Air France pilots would receive little public sympathy if they spoiled fans’ experience of one of the world’s biggest sporting events.

SNCF said the rail strike was costing it more than 20 million euros ($22.5 million) a day.

– ‘We must not be daunted’ –

The government is seeking to inject more flexibility into France’s famously rigid labour market by making it easier to sack employees and hire new ones.

But unions say the moves will erode job security and fail to bring down unemployment, which is stuck at just under 10 percent.

While the government has managed to win over several unions in recent weeks, a number of others, namely the powerful CGT, are calling for escalated action against the reforms, including a major protest in Paris on June 14.

Several oil refineries remain out of operation despite a vote by unions to resume work after stoppages left motorists queuing at filling stations last month.

Euro 2016 is also taking place with France on high alert following jihadist attacks in Paris in January and November last year that left nearly 150 people dead, and 90,000 security personnel will be guarding the tournament.

Jitters are growing with the arrest of a 25-year-old Frenchman that Ukrainian authorities believe was a far-right extremist who planned to attack a mosque, a synagogue and several other targets during the tournament with a huge arsenal of weapons.

Hollande tried to rally the subdued nation on Sunday, acknowledging that the threat of an attack during Euro 2016 could not be discounted but that people “must not be daunted”.

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