France: Strikes cause holiday travel chaos

World Saturday 21/December/2019 11:05 AM
By: Times News Service
France: Strikes cause holiday travel chaos

Holiday train travel in France continued to be disrupted on Friday as two weeks of national strikes rolled over into the weekend before the Christmas holiday.

Around 58% of train conductors were on strike on Friday, according to figures from state-run railway company SNCF. Only half of all trains in France are expected to run on schedule over the weekend. Trains to and from Germany are also likely to experience delays and cancelations.

Only 41% of high-speed trains will run on December 23 and 24. SNCF has asked half of the 400,000 people with tickets on those days to re-book their trips.

The company angered customers further with its decision to cancel tickets for unaccompanied children. Young travelers with such tickets are usually escorted by a train employee in a special car.

The train company said the decision was prompted by safety concerns related to overcrowded trains, but disgruntled critics accused it of trying to sell the seats for more money.

Unions reject a truce

On Thursday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe spoke with unions and called for an end to the strike "so that millions of French can join their families for the end of this year."

The moderate UNSA union agreed, but hardline CGT and Force Ouvrier opposed the deal, as did UNSA's own railway workers branch.

"Like other regions, we have decided not to respect this truce," UNSA member Daniel Teirlynck told French media.

Commerce has also been severely disrupted by the strikes, with some businesses reporting turnover down as much as 60% from last year.

Businesses suffer the fallout

On Friday, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Paris urged the government to take "more vigorous measures" to support business owners whose livelihoods have been threatened by the strikes.

France has been rocked by weeks of protests since President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to implement pension reform. French unions have vowed to kill the reforms. While participation has declined as the strikes continue, protests continue to disrupt daily life.

Force Ouvrier union chief Yves Veyrier on Friday said it was "time for the government to realize that this project is a serious mistake."

Talks between the unions and the government will commence again after the holidays in January.