Fresh protests in France but Euro 2016 chaos fears ease


Fresh strikes and violent protests hit Thursday, but fears of transport chaos during the Euro 2016 football tournament eased as airport staff cancelled a walkout and a subway strike had little impact.

Half of all trains nationally were cancelled barely a week before ’s 2016 kicks off on June 10, while several people were hurt as police clashed with protesters opposed to new labour reforms.

But unions’ hopes of bringing Paris to a halt with a Metro (Other OTC: MTRAF – news) strike appeared to have failed, as commuters suffered only minor disruption.

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And air traffic controllers called off a walkout that had been expected to ground flights over the weekend after reaching a deal with the government.

In a separate development, a blockade of the country’s refineries that had caused fears of fuel shortages was eased as workers voted to resume operations at a major facility on the Atlantic coast.

Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri said: “What the government is doing… is sorting out each of the situations one by one.”

But the unions still have plenty of opportunities to cause trouble during the football championships, which already pose a major security challenge following last year’s jihadist attacks in Paris.

Workers were back on strike at 16 of the country’s 19 nuclear power stations, while three unions representing Air France (Paris: FR0000031122 – news) pilots threatened a four-day walkout starting on June 11 in their own dispute over pay and conditions.

Six of the country’s eight oil refineries remained shut down or operated at a reduced level, although last week’s petrol shortages have stopped since police cleared away blockades.

A refinery owned by Total (LSE: 524773.L – news) at Donges, on the Atlantic coast, will resume operations after 94 percent of employees, in a secret ballot, voted to return to work, the oil major told Thursday.

The unit, which refines 219,000 barrels of crude per day, will take between three and five days to get back into production, the firm said.

– ‘Reforms will remain’ –

Although each of the strikes has its own motivations, the unions are united in opposition to the Socialist government’s new labour reforms that have sparked three months of often violent protests.

But Khomri insisted: “We will not withdraw the bill.”

Thousands took to the streets across the country on Thursday in the latest demonstrations against the reforms, which the government says are designed to make France more business-friendly.

Activists briefly occupied a signal box at the Gare de Lyon, one of Paris’ main rail stations, causing long delays.

Some 125,000 homes lost power in the Loire region when protesters took over an electricity sub-station.

There were clashes with police in Nantes, Toulouse and Rennes, while blockades were formed outside a Renault (LSE: 0NQF.L – news) factory in Rouen and a naval shipyard in Saint-Nazaire.

The powerful CGT union has previously demanded that the reforms be dropped entirely but appeared to be open to the possibility of a compromise.

“If the government says tomorrow ‘let’s talk,’ the strikes will stop,” CGT head Philippe Martinez said Wednesday.

Railway operator SNCF said 15 percent of its staff had walked out as part of the rolling strike, with more than two-thirds of inter-city trains and nearly half of high-speed TGV services again cancelled on Thursday.

Trains to and were heavily affected, but there was little impact on Eurostar trains to Britain and other international services.

Severe flooding around Paris and in the Loire Valley after days of torrential rain added to the misery.

– ‘Weighing on economy’ –

The government has vowed not to capitulate to the unions, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls has decried the “waste” caused by the strikes.

“This conflict is weighing on our economy at a time when the actions of the government are allowing a rebound, growth and a fall in unemployment,” he told parliament on Wednesday.

The French government says its new labour law is aimed at reducing stubbornly high unemployment and making the struggling economy more business-friendly.

But unions are furious the government rammed the reforms through the lower house of parliament without a vote, and have called for another national day of strikes in two weeks when the bill goes before the Senate.

They say the law favours bosses by letting them set their own working conditions for new employees, rather than being bound to industry-wide agreements, allowing companies to cut jobs during hard times and go beyond the 35-hour work week.

Despite the often violent demonstrations, President Francois Hollande has refused to scrap the legislation and has criticised the unions for tarnishing France’s image.

A new poll showed Hollande only has a 14-percent approval rating, but he is still considering standing for re-election next May.

The YouGov poll showed that the government’s ratings had slumped to just 10 percent.


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