Long-awaited negotiations between striking transport workers and the French government were due to begin today as a walkout which has paralysed train services throughout the country entered its eighth full day.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has insisted he will not give in to the strikers, who are protesting over his plans to slash special retirement privileges for certain public workers.
The stand-off is widely seen as a crucial test for Mr Sarkozy, who took office last May on promises of a thorough reform for France.
Talks between unions, the government and Paris’s public transit authority were due to start this morning, while negotiations with the SNCF railway authority were scheduled for later in the day. They are expected to last for a month.
Labour Minister Xavier Bertrand has urged unions to call off the open-ended strike during the negotiations, but it was not clear whether industry leaders would heed his calls.
The walkout was expected to continue to disrupt rail services today, with just over half of the 700 normally scheduled fast trains and only one out of four Paris Metros expected to run.
The French public appears to back Mr Sarkozy’s hard stance against the unions, according to recent polls.