France ready to force rail strikers back to work

With strikes spilling over in to Euro 2016 and threatening to cause chaos around the opening match, the French government has vowed to do whatever it takes to ensure the tournament runs smoothly and that could mean forcing strikers back to work on the trains.

France ready to force rail strikers back to work
Photo: AFP

The French government says it is ready, if necessary, to force rail strikers back to work, to ensure Euro 2016 does not descend into travel chaos and fans are unable to get to the grounds.

On Wednesday French President Francois Hollande had said he was ready to take “all necessary measures” to ensure rolling transport strikes don't disrupt the smooth running of the month-long Euro 2016 football extravaganza.

“I will be paying close attention tomorrow and if decisions need to be made, they will be made,” Hollande said Thursday on the eve of the tournament's opening match between France and Romania.

Rail workers have threatened fresh strike action on Friday on the lines serving Paris' Stade de France where the kick-off game will take place in front of 80,000 fans, if they can reach the stadium that is.

“Rest assured that public services will be provided and that the state will assume its full responsibilities,” the president told reporters in his heartland of Tulle in the Correze.

Speculation had been rising that the Hollande and his Prime Minister Valls were prepared to put into a controversial measure that effectively forces strikers to return to work.

The 2003 law for the “requisition of personnel” was controversially used by former president Nicolas Sarkozy back in 2010 in a bid to end a crippling fuel strike.

While neither Hollande nor Valls have specifically talked of “requisitions”, the government's transport minister Alain Vidalies confirmed that “requisition” orders would be used if necessary.

Vidalies told Europe1 radio that the government would use “every tool available” to get fans to matches and “if we have to issue orders tomorrow (for trains to be driven) we will do so”.

He also ruled out any new negotiations with workers who have been striking for 10 days and warned the authorities would show “no tolerance of actions that threaten the big celebration.”

“The strike has no meaning anymore,” he added.The four-yearly football tournament comes as France is grappling with unresolved strikes over the government's controversial labour reforms.

A train strike was in its ninth day Thursday, while visitors to the capital were also greeted by piles of uncollected rubbish.

Hollande said the government was prepared to “take all necessary measures” to accommodate and transport spectators attending the matches, which will be held under stringent security measures in the wake of last year's jihadist attacks in the capital.

France has mustered up to 90,000 police and private guards to provide security for the tournament.

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French customs officers strike over job cuts

Customs officers across France will walk out on Thursday in protest at job cuts that unions say will “weaken the customs network”.

French customs officers strike over job cuts

The national strike on Thursday, March 10th is expected to lead to delays at ports, airports and on the Eurostar.

The strike, which will include a rally outside the National Assembly building in Paris, was called by the CFDT-Douane and has the support of other unions. 

A work-to-rule protest over pay and conditions by customs officers in 2019, under the shadow of Brexit, led to delays and disruption at airports, as well as ports including Calais and Dunkirk, and on Eurostar trains.

Unions are calling on the government to axe plans to switch responsibility for import duty collection to the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques by 2024, at the cost of 700 customs’ officer jobs – and, according to strikers, tens of billions of euros to State coffers.

“We are asking for the reforms to be stopped, mainly that of the transfer of taxation, which is disorganising the network with the elimination of nearly a thousand jobs,” CFDT-Douane’s secretary general David-Olivier Caron said.

The planned job cuts come after years of restructuring and streamlining that has seen thousands of positions disappear, the unions say, when customs fraud and smuggling is rising because of a lack of resources.