French railway workers set to kick off one-day strike

French railway workers were planning to kick off a general strike late today, the latest salvo of protest by trade unions and student groups angry over the government’s new labour law.

French railway workers were planning to kick off a general strike late today, the latest salvo of protest by trade unions and student groups angry over the government’s new labour law.

Unions for national trains operator SNCF urged rank-and-file to walk off the job starting at 8pm. (7pm Irish time) today. The strike was expected to swell to full force tomorrow, leaving some air travellers stranded, disrupting train traffic and slowing Metro travel in Paris.

Students and labour groups vowed to press ahead with the one-day strike and more protests unless the government cancels the youth labour law that has sparked violent protests and shut down universities.

The contested new law lets companies dismiss workers under 26 without cause during their first two years on the job – a provision the government hopes will make it easier for employers to hire younger workers.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin says the law would help dent France’s 22 per cent youth unemployment rate that was blamed for stoking a wave of rioting last autumn. Student groups insist it will only lead to more job uncertainty for France’s young.

Union leaders said they would meet on Wednesday to decide on the next step, and one threatened to extend the strike.

“If there is not a positive response from the government Tuesday night, we will continue the movement,” said Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the Workers Force union .

The National Student Co-ordination, a loose grouping of university students, has demanded the conservative government’s resignation. At a meeting in south-eastern Aix-en-Provence, the group vowed more protests after the strike by blocking roads and rail tracks on Thursday.

About 200 demonstrations are planned across the country tomorrow, with the largest winding through Paris. The protest will be the sixth in about two weeks in the capital. Some have turned violent with youths throwing bottles and rocks at riot police who retaliated with tear gas.

Most Air France unions are taking part in the strike. France’s civil aviation authority said some flights were expected to be cancelled, though the exact scope of disruption is unclear. The authority urged travellers to contact carriers directly for information.

In Paris, half of Metro trains were expected to run, while the suburban RER commuter lines were to face greater disruptions, the RATP transport authority said. The national rail network, SNCF, said two out of three trains were expected on main routes. Eurostar service to London and Thalys trains to Brussels would not be affected, it said.

Though some universities and high schools have already been disrupted or completely shut down, more schools were to close their doors tomorrow during a teachers strike.

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