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More strikes in France bring rail services to a halt

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More strikes in France bring rail services to a halt
Photo: AFP
13:13 CEST+02:00
UPDATED: A rolling strike by French rail workers on Wednesday caused travel disruption for many as around half of train services were cancelled across the country.

Transport chaos hit France on Wednesday, just nine days before the Euro 2016 football tournament, as railway workers went on strike.

Around half of France's trains were cancelled as workers from railway operator SNCF launched their eighth strike in three months, this time saying they will continue until demands for better pay and conditions are met.

SNCF was asking passengers to delay or cancel their trips, but many had no choice.

"It's a nightmare today -- even more than the other strike days," said Christine, an SNCF worker surveying the chaos at Ormesson station in the Paris suburbs, where commuters were struggling to squeeze on to one of the few trains that had shown up.

SNCF said that around 17 percent of workers had joined the industrial action - up from the 10 percent who took part in last week's strike.

The industrial action saw around 60 percent of France’s high-speed TGV trains running. In the Paris region only around 50 percent of the commuter Transilien trains were operating. Transilien line R was said to be the worst hit with only 10 percent of trains running.

The RER A service in Paris was running as normal, but RER B, D and E services were to operate at a third of the normal service. The RER C service will be slightly better.

Elsewhere in the country only 45 percent of Intecité trains will be running. Eurostar services will run as normal as will Alleo services to Germany.

International trains to Switzerland, Thalys services to Belgium and the Netherlands and Ellipsos services to Spain will all be hit. Passengers are advised to check with the rail company.

France has seen a number of rail strikes in recent weeks, which have all impacted on services although the most recent, a two-day strike which took place last week, saw a drop in turn out.

However the three main unions representing rail workers – the CGT, Unsa and SUD-rail are promising a “strong mobilisation” for the rolling strike that will take full effect from Wednesday morning, while other transport strikes are set to take place later in the week.

"This week will be see the biggest mobilisation in the last three months," said CGT union chief Philippe Martinez.

The CFDT union cancelled its call to strike after succeeding in gaining guarantees from the government at the weekend.

The motivation for the walk-out is in part due to opposition to France’s labour reforms – which has led to numerous protests and strikes recent weeks.

However rail workers have also organised the strike to put pressure on SNCF bosses as negotiations continue over their pay, working conditions and working hours.

It's the eighth strike in three months for SNCF workers, and this time they have said the strike will continue until demands for better pay and conditions are met.

READ ALSO: Why are their rail strikes in France?

For Parisians the disruption looks likely to worsen on Thursday June 2nd when workers with the RATP transport network also begin industrial action against the labour reforms and in a bid to improve their own working conditions.

However the transport minister Alain Vidalies does not believe the movement will be strongly followed so is predicting less disruption.

France’s transport network could be hit by further strike action in the days to come, with air traffic controllers threatening a three-day walk-out beginning on June 3rd.

Last ditch negotiations aimed at avoiding that strike will take place on Tuesday with French aviation chiefs confident they can avoid industrial action.

"This week will see the strongest mobilisation in three months" of strikes, the head of the powerful CGT union Philippe Martinez said on Tuesday evening.

On Monday Air France pilots also voted in favour of the idea of a “long strike” in June although no date has been set.

The second biggest pilot union at Air France - the Spaf - threatened on Wednesday that its members would go on strike on June 11th. The strike is scheduled to last two to four days, and to take place just as the Euro 2016 football tournament begins (on the 10th).

READ ALSO: A complete guide to France's (many) upcoming strikes 

There was some good news around for the French public with signs that last week’s fuel crisis was easing.

On the ground, six of France's eight oil refineries were still halted or running at reduced capacity due to union action, but fuel depots were blockade free.

Despite the disruption caused to their daily lives, nearly half – 46 percent -- of French people still support the union's call, a poll in the Journal du Dimanche showed Sunday.

President François Hollande has vowed not to bow to pressure to scrap the bill.

"The bill will not be withdrawn," Hollande told France's Sud Ouest newspaper. "The text assures the best performance for businesses and offers new rights to employees."

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