Workers ignore Sarkozy’s plea

Vaiju Naravane

Paris: Angry French commuters could rave and rant but otherwise remained hostage to striking transport workers as the nation-wide strike entered its sixth day. The weekend gave them some respite, but come Monday it was back to foot slogging, long waits for rare trains at freezing railway stations or hours spent in traffic snarls that ran into the hundreds of kilometres.

On Monday rail workers’ unions agreed to extend their strike over pension reform by another 24 hours, but talks were due later in the week to resolve the impasse. Six of the seven unions that launched the protest late last Tuesday voted to continue the work stoppage, ignoring pleas from the government of President Nicolas Sarkozy for an early return to work.

Their decision means the strike will continue on Tuesday, when a separate protest by state employees including teachers, postal employees and hospital workers is planned. The unions said they would attend negotiations with a government representative and the management of the state-owned SNCF rail company on Wednesday.

Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand underscored the state’s stand, saying the resumption of normal rail traffic “would translate as [an act of] good faith. There are things which are moving, others which are getting unblocked but not fast enough for my liking,” he said.

Unions are striking over government plans to reform so-called “special” pensions systems enjoyed by some 5,00,000 workers mainly in the rail and energy sectors.

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