France hit by major strikes and protests

Anti-riot policemen dispersing taxi drivers and putting out burning tyres (above) on the ringroad around Paris yesterday. The taxi drivers also blocked traffic (below) in other parts of France as part of a national protest against competition from pr
Anti-riot policemen dispersing taxi drivers and putting out burning tyres (above) on the ringroad around Paris yesterday. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Anti-riot policemen dispersing taxi drivers and putting out burning tyres (above) on the ringroad around Paris yesterday. The taxi drivers also blocked traffic (below) in other parts of France as part of a national protest against competition from pr
The taxi drivers also blocked traffic (above) in other parts of France as part of a national protest against competition from private car ride firms like Uber.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

PARIS • Taxis snarled traffic across France and airlines cancelled flights on the first big strike day of 2016, as disgruntled air traffic controllers, taxi drivers and civil servants all went on strike yesterday.

Taxi drivers set fire to tyres on the ring road around Paris, blocked the A7 highway near Marseille, and stationed themselves at access roads to the Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports near Paris as they protested against competition from taxi app Uber and other non-licensed private hire cabs.

Twenty taxi drivers were arrested in Paris, mostly on the western edge of the French capital where riot police led a charge to displace a crowd of them and put out burning tyres, i-Tele television reported.

Uber continued to run the low- cost UberPOP service in France for months following a ban imposed in January last year, leading to a spate of violence by taxi unions in June. Despite the UberPOP ban, taxi dispatchers in Paris say business has shrunk by up to 30 per cent. Theunion says 60,000 jobs are at risk.

Meanwhile, the country's civil aviation authority asked airlines to cut the number of flights by 20 per cent as two unions representing air traffic controllers called for a 24-hour strike to demand higher pay and pensions. They also denounced the loss of some 1,000 jobs in under 10 years.

Air France said it would operate all of its long-haul flights and more than 80 per cent of its short-haul and medium-haul flights in France and elsewhere in Europe, but that "last-minute delays or cancellations cannot be ruled out". Noting the controllers' strike coincided with the taxi drivers', it warned passengers that access to airports in Paris, Toulouse, Marseille and Bordeaux could be "greatly disrupted". EasyJet said it had cancelled 35 flights, mainly within France.

Separately, 5.6 million civil servants were called to down tools to protest against labour reforms proposed last September affecting pay and career advancement. Unions say 150,000 jobs have been lost since 2007, and the hospital sector is especially in need of new jobs.

Travellers might also have encountered roadblocks set up by farmers upset over falling prices.

Some 200 farmers in the Reims area east of Paris set up roadblocks on major arteries on Monday in solidarity with farmers in north-western Brittany, who blocked roads with tractors and burning tyres. The farmers' unions are demanding that distributors and major food companies pay equitable prices for their produce and livestock.

Also yesterday, kindergarten and primary school teachers went on strike for higher pay. About a third, or 100,000 of them, were expected to take part, according to their union, which predicted a stay away rate of up to 45 per cent in Paris.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline 'France hit by major strikes and protests'. Print Edition | Subscribe