French woes ease after strike ends

Train and bus services returning to normal after most unions vote to end protest.

    Transport services are gradually
    returning to normal [AFP]

    Normality returning
     
    State owned rail operator SNCF said it expects high-speed TGV rail links between Paris and other cities to be running normally but only one in two TGV trains linking cities other than Paris would be running.
     
    However, disruption was likely to last throughout the weekend.
     

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    Raymond Soubie, Sarkozy’s aide for social affairs, told French broadcaster Europe-1 Radio: "The worst of the crisis is over."
     
    Pockets of resistance remained but the majority of the voters agreed on Thursday to end the strike.
     
    Rail unions, SNCF and government officials are expected to continue talks for at least another month.
     
    Only Sud Rail, one out of eight labour groups, has called on its members to carry on striking during the talks.
     
    Contested reforms
     
    The dispute has been the biggest challenge for Sarkozy since he took office in May.
     
     
    Sarkozy has vowed to stand firm over the central point of the dispute, scrapping a privilege that allows half a million state workers to retire on a full pension two and a half years earlier than most other employees.
     
    Under the plan, railway and energy workers will have to work for 40 years to qualify for full pensions compared to the current 37.5 years.
     
    But the SNCF has offered some concessions such as including certain bonus payments in the calculation of pension rights or pay rises for those approaching retirement.

    Protests reached a peak when civil servants
    and students staged separate strikes [EPA]

    Public opinion has been firmly on the government's side in the dispute.
     
    A recent poll showed that the president has the support of the public, with 68 per cent believing the strike is "not justified".
     
    Protests in France reached a peak when civil servants staged a separate one-day strike over pay and job cuts.
     
    Some unions warned they might renew their protests next month.
     
    The government has argued changes to pension schemes are essential to modernising the French economy.
     
    Sarkozy's rivals, however, fear it spells the beginning of the end of the labour protections considered part of the French way of life.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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