PARIS, June 16 French Prime Minister Manuel
Valls refused on Monday to yield to the demands of striking rail
workers seeking to derail a planned reform of the sector as
their stoppage entered a six day.
The strike is one of the longest France has seen in years
and has disrupted services since last Tuesday, testing the
resolve of President Francois Hollande's government's to push
through sometimes unpopular reforms.
Hardline unions CGT and SUD are against plans, intended to
prepare the sector ahead of EU reforms aimed at bringing more
competition to European transport routes, while less militant
unions have dropped their opposition and returned to work.
The government and state-owned SNCF have had to mobilise
special train and bus services to ensure students can attend
annual end-of-school exams beginning on Monday for hundreds of
thousands of students across the nation.
"This strike is irresponsible in the country's (current)
state, on a day of exams. It's time to stop this strike," Valls
said on France Info radio.
Insisting the government would push ahead with the reform,
he said that he was "no strike-breaker" and would not force
unions to end the strike, which he said they had a
constitutional right to carry out.
Parliament is due to begin debating a bill on Tuesday that
would bring the SNCF rail operator and RFF network owner into
the same holding company, although their operations would be
Hollande's Socialist government says the move would give the
sector a more coherent structure as France and other European
countries prepare for liberalisation.
Unions fear that working conditions would suffer and want
SNCF and RFF to be fully merged into one entity as they were
prior to 1997. They also want the state to take on 40 billion
euros ($55 billion) in debt owed by the firms.
($1 = 0.7345 Euros)
(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; editing by Mark John)