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Monday, March 27, 2023

French workers strike to demand pay rises keep pace with inflation

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Workers across France have gone on strike to push for pay rises that keep up with inflation following weeks of walkouts that have hit oil refineries and sparked fuel shortages.

Rail and other transport workers, some high school teachers and public hospital employees have heeded a call by an oil workers’ union for French industry to push for salary increases and protest against government intervention in the refinery strikes.

Thousands also took to the streets on Sunday to march against rising prices.

Just one in two trains were running on Tuesday in the southern region rail network, causing delays during morning rush hour.

There were reports of disruption on high-speed trains in the north, as well as on the Eurostar and the inter-city trains linking France with Spain.

Similar protests have erupted around Europe in recent months as people complain about the impact of inflation, causing disruption like cancelled flights and trains.

Thousands protested in Prague twice last month partly about high energy prices while airline workers have gone on strike in places like Germany and Sweden for higher pay as inflation rises.

Tuesday’s protests in France come after the left-wing CGT union rejected a deal over a pay increase that oil giant TotalEnergies struck with two other unions on Friday.

The CFDT and CFE-CGC unions, which together represent a majority of the group’s French workers, agreed to a 7% pay rise and a financial bonus.

Strikers demanded higher wages from the windfall profits of energy companies that have seen high oil and gas prices as Russia’s war in Ukraine aggravates an energy crisis.

But the CGT rejected the deal, holding out for a 10% pay rise and called on other unions to support their demands, seek their own pay increases and join the protests after the government ordered some workers to return to work.

Long queues of cars have been seen for weeks across France as drivers waited — sometimes for hours — to fill up.

Many fuel stations have temporarily closed while awaiting deliveries. About 30% of France’s petrol stations are experiencing temporary shortages, with the Paris area and northern France most affected.

The government of President Emmanuel Macron is losing patience with strikers, who have gathered support from his political rivals on the left.

After launching requisitions at some refineries to get fuel back into tanks, government officials said it plans more as soon as Tuesday. Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told broadcaster BFMTV on Monday that “the time for negotiations is over”.

Inflation has risen around the world as economies rebounded from the Covid-19 pandemic and then got worse as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent food and fuel prices soaring.

French inflation has hit 6.2%, which is the lowest among the 19 countries that use the euro currency, according to the European Union’s statistics agency Eurostat.

In comparison, Estonia saw consumer prices soar 24% last month from a year earlier while the Netherlands’ rate was 17% and the eurozone as a whole was 10%.

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