Pilots’ strike threat hangs over Euro 2016

Paris (AFP) – Strikes by rail workers and flooding disrupted France on Friday, while the new threat of a pilots’ strike hung over Euro 2016 a week before the tournament kicks off.

Unions pressed on with the rail stoppages for a third full day, but the number of staff taking part fell to just above 10 percent, the SNCF rail operator said.

Services in Paris were hit, but almost all high-speed trains were operating.

In the capital and further south, attention has shifted from the lingering strikes to the worst flooding for three decades.

Just as the risk to Euro 2016 of an air traffic controllers’ strike faded, unions for Air France pilots threatened late Thursday to call a four-day stoppage beginning on June 11, when the championships will be in full swing.

Transport Minister Alain Vidalies described the pilots’ strike call as “irresponsible”.

“It would be incomprehensible if flights are halted in France” during the month-long event hosted by France, he said.

“Everyone needs to contribute to making Euro 2016 a success.”

– ‘Hope for solution’ –

The minister said the pilots’ strike, the latest in a long-running dispute over working conditions at France’s national carrier, was just “an attempt to gain headlines”.

“I hope dialogue will win the day,” he said.

Household rubbish risked building up in the Paris region and elsewhere in the country in strikes against the government’s labour reforms which are at the heart of the wave of industrial unrest.

Three of the four main refuse centres in Paris were blockaded by union activists.

A week after blockades and strikes left petrol stations running dry, the situation eased further as workers voted to resume operations at a major refinery at Donges, on the Atlantic coast.

The refinery will take between three and five days to return to full production, owners Total said, though others remained paralysed by strike action.

Concerns about transport during Euro 2016 had eased on Thursday after air traffic controllers called off a walkout that had been expected to ground flights this weekend.

Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri said the government was “sorting out each of the situations one by one.”

But unions still have plenty of opportunities to cause trouble during the championships which begin when France play Romania in Paris’ Stade de France on June 10.

The tournament is expected to attract around 1.5 million foreign visitors for the matches at 10 venues around the country, posing a major security challenge following last year’s jihadist attacks in Paris. 

Although each of the strikes has its own motivations, the unions are united in opposition to the labour reforms, which the government says will reduce unemployment by making it easier to hire and fire employees.

The government has refused to withdraw the legislation, which it forced through the lower house of parliament without a vote last month.

Unions 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 against the law, President Francois Hollande is refusing to scrap the legislation and has criticised the unions for tarnishing France’s image.

Hollande sees the labour law as key to his legacy as he considers whether to stand for a second term in next May’s presidential election.

New polls this week showed Hollande only had a 14-percent approval rating, while the government as a whole mustered a lowly 10 percent.

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