French unions urge more to go on strike

Demonstrators (above) clashing with French riot police in Paris during a protest against the government's labour market reformson Thursday. The unrest also resulted in smashed shop windows (above right) as well as damage to parked cars.
Demonstrators (above) clashing with French riot police in Paris during a protest against the government's labour market reformson Thursday.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, REUTERS
Demonstrators (above) clashing with French riot police in Paris during a protest against the government's labour market reformson Thursday. The unrest also resulted in smashed shop windows (above right) as well as damage to parked cars.
The unrest also resulted in smashed shop windows (above) as well as damage to parked cars.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, REUTERS

Hollande, however, says govt stands firm on commitment to labour law reforms

PARIS • French unions urged workers to step up a wave of industrial action against a controversial labour law, a day after clashes over the reforms rocked Paris.

The tug-of-war between unions and President Francois Hollande's deeply unpopular government showed little sign of ending, as union representatives yesterday urged workers to "multiply and support" the strikes.

They said the government response to the strikes and its "stubbornness" in not withdrawing the contested law was only "boosting the determination" of opponents to the legislation.

But a defiant Mr Hollande yesterday vowed to "stand firm" over the controversial law, hitting back at unions which urged workers to step up a wave of industrial action.

"I will stand firm because I think it is a good reform," he told reporters at a Group of Seven summit in Japan. Saying that dialogue was "always possible", he added that the government would not negotiate if threatened by "an ultimatum".

The legislation at the heart of the dispute aims to reform France's notoriously rigid labour laws by making it easier for companies to hire and fire staff.

Mr Hollande also said the government's top priority was to ensure the "normal functioning of the economy" in the face of blockades of oil refineries and fuel depots that have left petrol pumps running dry.

While there were still long queues at petrol stations in some parts of the country, the fuel situation appeared to have eased early yesterday, as the government dipped into its strategic reserves for a fifth consecutive day.

Riot police moved in to sweep away a blockade of burning tyres at an oil depot near a refinery in Donge, western France. But motorists in Paris were restricted to buying €40 (S$62) of petrol per person at many stations, where queues built up ahead of the weekend.

Mr Pierre Jata, a 40-year-old cable TV technician, was rushing to fill up at a petrol station on the edge of the capital, minutes before supplies ran out. He laid the blame for the disruption on the government.

A man in his 50s had to be airlifted to hospital after a motorist rammed a roadblock outside a petrol refinery at Fos-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean coast.

Strikes also continued at nuclear power stations, which provide three-quarters of the country's electricity.

RTE, the body overseeing the national power network, said the stoppages were not having an immediate effect on supply, but "if it worsens, it will have an impact on the management of the network".

The latest tussle between unions and the government came a day after the police fired tear gas at a group of masked youths who smashed shop windows and parked cars in central Paris in yet another outburst against the legislation.

Nationwide protests on Thursday saw 153,000 people take to the streets overall, officials said, though union leaders put the number at 300,000.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2016, with the headline 'French unions urge more to go on strike'. Print Edition | Subscribe