France is still struggling with the impact of the rail strike © Getty Images (Representational Image)
France is still struggling with the impact of the rail strike © Getty Images (Representational Image)

Paris: French rail unions were holding make-or-break talks with employers to try to end a six-day strike that threatens to disrupt the Euro 2016 football championships. Preparations for the tournament are already clouded by security fears, which grew on Monday as Ukraine announced it had arrested a Frenchman who was allegedly planning multiple attacks to coincide with the competition. Ahead of Euro 2016’s kick-off Friday, France is still struggling with the impact of the rail strike, which combined with recent heavy flooding in Paris and other parts of the country to leave train services severely affected on Monday.

To make matters worse, Air France pilots are threatening a four-day strike from June 11 in a long-running internal dispute over pay and investment in the airline. French President Francois Hollande, whose unpopular Socialist government has been hit by three months of strikes and protests over its labour reforms, called for an end to the damaging industrial action.

The strikes “are causing disagreements amongst our compatriots and give an image of France that does not conform to reality, when France is the premier tourist destination in the world”, he told La Voix du Nord newspaper in an interview to be published today. “The government has shown its willingness to have a dialogue,” he added. Unions say the offer on the table from state-run rail operator SNCF is “not up to the mark”.

As the talks continued into the night, at least some of the rail strikes were set to roll into a seventh day, with only about forty per cent of inter-city trains running. Hollande warned Sunday that the rail workers and Air France pilots would receive little public sympathy if they spoiled fans’ experience of one of the world’s biggest sporting events. SNCF said the rail strike was costing it more than USD 22.5 million a day.

The government is seeking to inject more flexibility into France’s famously rigid labour market by making it easier to sack employees and hire new ones. But unions say the moves will erode job security and fail to bring down unemployment, which is stuck at just under 10 per cent. While the government has managed to win over several unions in recent weeks, a number of others, namely the powerful CGT, are calling for escalated action against the reforms, including a major protest in Paris on June 14.