France labour dispute: Rail workers strike as protests continue

French railway workers are to go on strike as unions
continue to protest against planned labour reforms.
This is expected to further disrupt a transport network
already suffering from a shortage of fuel.
French President Francois Hollande has insisted he will not
back down over the reforms, which aim to make it easier to
recruit and dismiss employees.
Public sector workers in neighbouring Belgium are also
going on strike on Tuesday over budget cuts.
The national strike there will see police officers, teachers
and some civil servants join train drivers and prison guards,
who are already on strike.
As well as budget cutbacks, the unions are protesting against
changes to working hours and a rise in the retirement age.
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In France, further transport disruption is likely later in the
week as Paris metro staff are due to begin indefinite action
on Thursday and Air France pilots have voted to strike over
pay.
On Monday, six of France’s eight oil refineries were still
halted or running at reduced capacity due to union action.
Workers at the oil terminal in the northern port of Le Havre,
which supplies Paris’s two main airports, have voted to
extend their blockade until Wednesday.
French labour reform bill – main points
The 35-hour week remains in place, but as an average.
Firms can negotiate with local trade unions on more or
fewer hours from week to week, up to a maximum of 46
hours.
Firms are given greater freedom to reduce pay.
The law eases conditions for laying off workers, which is
strongly regulated in France. It is hoped companies will take
on more people if they know they can shed jobs in case of a
downturn.
Employers to get more leeway to negotiate holidays and
special leave, such as maternity or for getting married.
These are currently also heavily regulated.
The CGT union is leading the action, supported by other
unions including Force Ouvriere and Unef, whereas the
more moderate CFDT union backs the labour reforms.
The CGT says the reforms will erode job security without
bringing down the country’s 10% unemployment rate.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls – who has suggested the
reforms could be “modified” – has cancelled a planned trip
to Canada while Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has said
he wants France to remain open for business.
Last week’s rallies saw clashes between protesters and
police and the Paris tourist board warned that the scenes of
violence risked putting off visitors.
“The scenes of guerilla-type action in the middle of Paris,
beamed around the world, reinforce the feeling of fear and
misunderstanding” after last November’s terror attacks
which killed 130 people in Paris, it said.
However, 46% of French people remained supportive of the
protests despite the disruption to their daily lives, according
to a poll on Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

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