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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 June, 2003, 20:46 GMT 21:46 UK
Strikes hit European travellers
Commuters study train timetables at Saint Lazare station
Paris's metro, buses and national rail services have been badly hit
Industrial action in France, Italy and Austria is causing massive disruption to commuters and airline passengers.

Four out of five flights in and out of France have been grounded.

Public transport in France and Austria has ground almost to a halt.

And Italy's national airline, Alitalia, has cancelled 200 flights.

If employees decide, we will have strikes, demonstrations, rallies, the whole palette of union initiatives, as long as needed
Bernard Thibault
CGT union

The disruption in France and Austria is caused by the latest in a series of strikes over reforms that will force many employees to work longer for their pension.

Alitalia staff are striking in protest at plans to reduce cabin-crew staffing.

In Austria the strike is described as the largest since World War II.

In France the action is bringing back memories of 1995 protests that plagued the last conservative government.

The results include:

  • Some 320 kilometres (200 miles) of traffic congestion around the country, including 150km around Paris
  • Two trains in three not running
  • Large crowds of stranded commuters across the capital
  • Half of Paris' bus services not running
  • Paris metro lines running at between one third and a half of normal levels
  • Major disruption to cross-channel ferries
  • Most newspapers failing to appear because of a journalists' strike
  • The closure of numerous schools as teachers stage their 10th walkout in as many months

Postal workers, ambulance drivers, port workers, and air traffic control staff were among those observing the action.

In terms of air travel:

  • Air France axed 65% of short- and medium-haul flights
  • British Airways cancelled 90 out of 120 planned flights between the UK and France, while British Midland said it was operating six out of 24 flights
  • Lufthansa cut 97 out of 139 planned flights between Germany and France
  • Easyjet cancelled 37 flights to and from France
  • Disruptions to flights to and from France are likely on Wednesday, but traffic is expected to return to normal by the end of the week

In Austria unions are staging their third and largest protest in less than a month.

Union officials say 280,000 public sector workers - or 86% of the country's total - took part in the strike.

However disruption was less marked than in previous protests.

Rollerbladers

Public transport came early on Monday, but traffic levels were normal during the morning rush-hour because workers travelled to work earlier.

metro

Some arranged car-pools, and others walked, rollerbladed and cycled to work.

One road leading to Vienna's international airport was blocked by airport workers, but others remained open.

Austrian Airlines said only one flight had been cancelled.

Many schools and universities were closed, however, and the BBC's Bethany Bell in Vienna said rubbish was overflowing on to the city's usually pristine streets.

In France the shutdown was said to be less severe than an earlier day of action - "Black Tuesday" on 13 May.

Summer deadline

The French cabinet approved pension reforms last week that will oblige public sector employees to work for 40 years to qualify for a full pension, up from 37.5 years at present.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has said he wants the reform approved by parliament before its summer recess, in order to prevent the present system from collapsing.

Graph showing EU's demographic timebomb
He has already reached agreement with the country's second-largest union.

But the head of the communist-linked CGT union said there could be long-term walkouts unless the government began negotiations on the plan.

"If employees decide, we will have strikes, demonstrations, rallies, the whole palette of union initiatives, as long as needed," Bernard Thibault told Europe-1 radio.

The Minister for Regional Affairs, Patrick Devedjian, accused the union of "wanting to paralyse the country".

Austria's planned pension reforms would oblige employees to work for 45 years instead of 40 years to qualify for a full pension.

They would also phase out early retirement schemes.

Talks on the package between the government, political parties, unions and business leaders broke down last week.

The current pension system is threatened by a combination of increasing life expectancy and a slowing birth rate, meaning that there are fewer workers to pay for rising pension costs.


SEE ALSO:
In pictures: European travel misery
03 Jun 03  |  Photo Gallery
Air chaos as France strikes
27 May 03  |  Business
French teachers step up pressure
22 May 03  |  Europe
French push to tackle pensions
03 Feb 03  |  Europe


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