Transport Workers in France End Strike; Student Protests Continue

France train services near normal
BBC News, Nov., 23, 2007

Travel networks in France are returning to normal following major disruption caused by a nine-day strike.

High-speed TGV services from Paris are running as usual. In the capital, metro services were being restored, though few lines were back to 100% operation.

"The worst of the crisis is over," presidential aide Raymond Soubie told radio station Europe-1.

But reports suggest the unions could return to strike action next month if current talks fail to reach a deal.

The unions oppose plans to scrap the "special" pension system that allows some 500,000 transport and utility workers to retire early, bringing them in line with other state employees.

'No compromise'

The government has signalled it is willing to discuss how the reforms are implemented, but President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed not to compromise on the core of the changes - and Mr Soubie reiterated this stance on Friday.

"We have always said that there are some principles of harmonisation which we would not give up.

"We have not given them up. We won't give them up," he said, though he added there were many "perfectly legitimate" issues to be discussed.

On Thursday most local union committees voted to return to work while talks with the government continue.

The number of trains running on the state-owned national rail network SNCF and the Paris underground was returning to normal on Friday.

While TGV high-speed services from Paris were near normal, regional services continued to experience only 50-70% of usual service levels.

On the Paris metro, some lines were back to normal while service on others remained extremely patchy.

Buses were running about 80% of normal service, while trams were nearly back to normal.

Both the SNCF rail and RATP metro companies say they will offer refunds to holders of season tickets and travel passes in light of the prolonged disruption caused by the strike, which began on 13 November.

Talks between the unions, rail managers and government representatives, which began on Wednesday, are expected to continue for at least a month.

Most unions have told members to go back to work, with only the militant Sud Rail urging members to stay out.

But train drivers warn they could be back out on strike in mid-December if no deal is reached.

Trouble elsewhere

Although the government says it will stay firm on the reforms, it has suggested it could offer incentives of salary rises and a top-up scheme for pensions.

Unhappy rail workers are not the only obstacle Mr Sarkozy faces in implementing his reforms programme.

On Tuesday, civil workers went on strike.

On Thursday, the Unef student union said 48 out of France's 85 universities were totally or partially blocked by protesters demonstrating against what they say are Mr Sarkozy's plans to privatise top universities.

Those student protests were reportedly continuing at some universities on Friday.

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