‘Black Tuesday’ as France grapples with taxi, aviation strikes

PARIS: Tempers flared in Paris as striking taxi drivers blocked key roads and set fire to tyres on a “black Tuesday” that saw simultaneous strikes by air traffic controllers, civil servants, hospital workers and teachers.

At Orly airport, one protester was injured in the leg when a shuttle bus forced its way through a blockade. Police said the bus driver was arrested.

Some 300 taxi drivers furious over competition from non-licensed private hire cabs also blocked the capital’s ring road at a key intersection in the west of the city, lighting fires and throwing smoke bombs.

“Today our survival is at stake, we are fed up of meetings and negotiations,” said Ibrahima Sylla, spokesman of the Taxis de France collective.

Nineteen protesters were arrested, police said.

Adding to the airport chaos, one in five flights in and out of Orly as well as Paris’ main air hub, Charles de Gaulle, were cancelled because of a strike by air traffic controllers over pay and conditions.

However, no last-minute cancellations were reported early Tuesday, an airport spokesman told AFP, adding: “All passengers whose flights were cancelled were informed by the airlines.”

Air France had said it would operate all of its long-haul flights and more than 80 percent of its short- and medium-haul flights in France and elsewhere in Europe, but that “last-minute delays or cancellations cannot be ruled out.”

Noting that the controllers’ strike coincided with the taxi drivers’ action, the airline warned its passengers that access to the Paris airports, as well as those of Toulouse and Bordeaux in the southwest and Marseille in the south, could be “greatly disrupted”.

Budget airline EasyJet said it had cancelled 35 flights, mainly within France but also to or from Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

The controllers’ unions want to be exempted from proposed changes to how salaries are calculated, which they say would hurt their purchasing power.

On the ground, police said some 1,200 taxi drivers were protesting in various parts of Paris, while their colleagues also disrupted traffic in Toulouse, northern Lille and southern Marseille.

They are seeking compensation for business lost to taxi app company Uber and similar firms.

Despite a year-old ban on the low-cost UberPOP service, taxi dispatchers in Paris say business has shrunk 20 to 30 percent.

Uber continued to run UberPOP service in France for several months following the ban, leading to a spate of violent protests by taxi unions in June.

The San Francisco-based company finally shut down UberPOP in July after two of its French bosses were arrested and charged with “misleading commercial practices (and) complicity in the illegal exercise of the taxi profession”

– Demos across France –

Meanwhile some 5.6 million civil servants have been called to down tools to protest against labour reforms proposed last September affecting pay and career advancement.

Kindergarten and primary school teachers were striking Tuesday for higher pay, with about a third, or 100,000, expected to take part, according to their union, which predicts a stay-away rate of up to 45 percent in Paris.

The leftist FO union says that, with inflation, a July 2010 freeze on the index used to calculate salaries has cost civil servants eight percent of their purchasing power.

The striking unions — who led up to 120 demonstrations across France on what the daily Le Parisien dubbed “black Tuesday” — also claim they are protesting against job losses totalling some 150,000 since 2007 and say the hospital sector is especially in need of new jobs.

Civil Service Minister Marylise Lebranchu said Tuesday that negotiations in February could not be expected to lead to a “big rise (in the salary index) because we are in a difficult situation”.

She said austerity measures involving the civil service had achieved seven billion euros ($7.6 billion) in savings.

Jean-Marc Canon of the hardline CGT union said Monday any increase would be “light years from what we want”, demanding that wages keep up with inflation as well as “significant measures aimed at recovering the losses since 2010.”

Travellers on Tuesday may also encounter roadblocks set up by a different set of protesters: farmers upset over falling prices.

The farmers’ unions are demanding that distributors and major food companies pay equitable prices for their produce and livestock.