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Fresh protests over French labor reforms

June 3, 2016

Thousands have taken to the streets in cities across France to protest a new labor law. The country continues to reel from strikes and protests against the planned legislation, which activists say erodes workers' rights.

Demonstration in Paris
Image: DW/B. Wesel

Fresh strikes and protests hit France on Thursday, but fears of travel paralysis during the upcoming European Soccer Championship waned as airport staff cancelled a planned walkout, and a Paris subway strike failed to cause much disruption.

With barely a week to go before the start of Euro 2016, half of all trains nationally were cancelled, and several people were hurt as police clashed with protesters opposed to the new labor law.

The government says the law is necessary to fight unemployment and make France more business-friendly, but opponents say the law will lead to longer hours, lower wages, and fewer protections for workers.

Frankreich Paris Saint-Lazare Station Streik der SNCF
French travelers endured more travel misery Thursday as strikes cut train services by halfImage: picture-alliance/AA/R. Avellaneda

The leftist CGT union is leading the protests, and Prime Minister Mauel Valls has rejected demands from the group to scrap the bill.

"If we gave in to the CGT, it would no longer be possible to reform France," Valls told the Ebra regional newspaper group.

A subway strike in Paris Thursday appeared to fail as commuters suffered only minor disruptions in service. Air traffic controllers also called off a walkout that threatened to ground flights over the weekend after reaching a deal with the government.

A blockade of France's oil refineries, which has caused fuel shortages across the country, also eased as workers voted to return to work in a refinery owned by Total at Donges on the Atlantic coast.

"What the government is doing... is sorting out each of the situations one by one," Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri said.

But the crisis is far from over, as six of the country's eight oil refineries remained shut down or operated at a reduced level. Workers were also back on strike at 16 of the country's 19 nuclear power plants.

Air France pilots plan action

Meanwhile in an unrelated action, Air France's pilot unions threatened on Thursday to strike during the first week of play at Euro 2016 as part of a protest over pay.

In a joint statement, the unions said they planned to strike from June 11 to June 14, with the potential for further strikes a few days later if necessary. The Euro 2016 tournament kicks off on June 10 in Paris and runs until July 10.

"We have to speak with them and convince them that to go on strike is not the best way to promote future growth," Air France CEO Frederic Gagey said.

But even though Gagey said the airline would hold firm on pay, he said a strike would not paralyze travel to the tournament.

"People can drive or take the train," he said.

The unions calling for the strike are the Syndicat National des Pilotes de Ligne (SNPL), which represents more than half of the airline's pilots, and SPAF, which represents about a quarter.

Air France lost more than 400 million euros ($446 million) in September 2014 during a 15-day pilots' strike. The Airline said it was too soon to estimate what economic impact the proposed June strike would have.

bw/gsw (AFP, Reuters)