France braces for travel chaos as transport unions join strikes
The protests raging across France over the controversial new labor law reforms could be approaching their highest point, with French unions now calling for more action from the national railway service, the Paris Metro and ports.
Commuters and air travelers are set to face severe transport disruption starting from Tuesday.
The number of high-speed TGV trains will be reduced by half, and only 40 percent of all regional trains will be running, French state-owned rail company SNCF said in a statement, according to France24. Other trains will simply be cancelled for the most part.
Meanwhile, more than two thirds of Air France pilots have approved a lengthy strike triggered by the airline’s “obsessive reduction of costs,” SNPL chief Philippe Evain said, according to Reuters.
It’s not clear whether the leading French airline's strike will coincide with the land transport system walkout, but it’s sure to be additional trouble for French President Francois Hollande, who already has to deal with the upcoming Euro 2016 soccer tournament, set to start on June 10.
The French tourist sector is likely to suffer a setback as millions of visitors hoping to enjoy the matches at Euro 2016 will have to struggle their way to the French host cities, including Paris, Toulouse, Lille, Marseille and others recently struck by violent protests.
“The scenes of guerrilla-type action in central Paris, beamed around the world, reinforce the feeling of fear and misunderstanding from visitors in an already angst-filled climate,” Frederic Valletoux, head of the Paris region tourist board, said on Monday, while trying to urge the government to put an end to the civil unrest, Reuters reported.
“A strike of that scope a few weeks before Euro 2016 and at the heart of the tourist season is more than unacceptable,” the French GNI trade association said in a statement last week. It warned of booking cancellations that will hit French hoteliers already suffering after the November terror attacks in Paris.
About 2.5 million spectators are expected to visit France for Euro 2016, which will run for about a month.
Some of the strikes organized by unions, students, and social media movements all around France have descended into violence, with demonstrators throwing stones, bottles and other objects at police officers, who have responded with tear gas and arrests.
Several roads have already been blocked by protesters in recent days, leading to partial paralysis in some parts of the country. Access to oil refineries has also been cut off and fuel shortages that forced the authorities to unseal the strategic fuel reserves are persisting.
The contested reforms were drawn up by Francois Hollande’s Socialist government in an effort to deregulate the labor market and lower the country’s unemployment rate.
Protests against the bill remained peaceful until the government’s attempt to push it through parliament without a vote, based on a rarely-used article of the French constitution.