French revolt against labour counter-reforms, Belgians strike in defence of public sector

CGT union leader Martinez against the French government


Life stops in France, Belgium amid labour protests

In France thousands of union workers are rallying against proposed legislation which would change the country’s worker-friendly regulations.

Countrywide protests by union workers are disrupting life in France. Thousands of people are protesting against controversial legislation which will increase working hours and give employers greater liberty to hire and fire workers.

The unrest, which has brought the transport system to a halt and caused a fuel shortage in many cities, also threatens to jeopardise the European soccer tournament starting in few days.

President Francois Hollande says he will not back down on key provisions of the proposed reforms.

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Belgium disrupted by widespread transport and public sector strikes

Large parts of Belgium have come to a standstill as transport strikes caused serious disruption in Brussels and the French-speaking region and exposed the political fault lines of the divided country.

Train drivers were on strike on Tuesday for the sixth consecutive day, bringing to a halt most services in French-speaking Wallonia and delaying journeys in Brussels and Dutch-speaking Flanders. Some trains to Paris and German cities were delayed or cancelled, although Eurostar said it was sticking to its scheduled timetable.

Public transport in Brussels was also disrupted for the second time in a week, with metro trains running every 15-20 minutes, according to transport authority STIB. In some French-speaking cities disruption was greater, with unions vowing that no trains, buses or trams would run in the city of Charleroi. Some postal workers were on strike and rubbish was not collected in Brussels.

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France labour dispute: Hollande digs in as rail strike begins

President Francois Hollande of France has insisted that a controversial labour reform will not be withdrawn as strike action begins on the railways.

“The text assures the best performance for businesses and offers new rights to employees,” he told a newspaper.

Protesters clashed with police last week during marches against the bill, which makes hiring and firing easier.

There are concerns the Euro 2016 football championships, which France hosts from next week, may be disrupted.

Tourism chiefs in Paris have warned that the unrest is putting off visitors to one of the world’s top destinations.

“The scenes of guerrilla-type action in the middle of Paris, beamed around the world, reinforce the feeling of fear and misunderstanding,” the tourist board said.

The capital’s reputation as a safe destination was already dented by November’s deadly attack by militants from the self-styled Islamic State (IS) group, who killed 130 people in gun and bomb attacks.

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Belgian public sector goes on strike in run-up to French rail walkout

Public sector workers in Belgium organised in a 24-hour national strike Tuesday, as French rail workers began indefinite strike action yesterday evening. Workers are mobilising across national borders in Europe against the reactionary austerity policies that the entire European Union (EU) has imposed on workers since the 2008 financial crisis.

While French workers are mobilising in struggle against the Socialist Party’s (PS) regressive labour law, the right-wing government of Belgian prime minister Charles Michel intends to impose welfare cuts and budget cuts in public service and education as well as to raise the pension age. The Belgian government’s aim is to make it easier for employers to hire part-time workers on short-term, part-time contracts with less security. Its proposed laws introduce a 45-hour workweek and impose overtime without extra pay.

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The Belgian strike was called by several trade unions, including the General Confederation for Public Services (CGSP); it coincided with a train drivers stoppage that entering its sixth day. Belgian train drivers are opposing cuts in overtime pay.

The whole Belgian public sector was heavily disrupted due to strike action taken by workers in the health sector, public transport, postal services, fire service, education and other areas. Operations of the state-run SNCB (National Railway Company of Belgium) were paralysed in the Francophone areas, while in Flanders only 50 percent of trains were servicing their lines. Some services to Paris and German cities were delayed or cancelled.

Mainline trains and buses in Brussels and the French-speaking region of Wallonia were paralysed. In the capital, Brussels, metro lines, trams and buses were affected for the second time in a week, while rubbish went uncollected.

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