(Updates with workers ending strike)
PARIS/MARSEILLE, July 10 A quick restructuring
of SNCM is indispensable to secure the ferry operator's future,
the head of shareholder Veolia said on Thursday as
workers voted to end a strike blocking ports in Marseille and
Workers agreed to talks with a government-mandated mediator
who has tabled a plan that would keep the long-struggling
company afloat at least until the end of November, CGT union
official Frederic Alpozzo said, stressing that the strike could
restart should no "long term solution" be found.
The strike suspension also follows a government threat on
Wednesday to take action to break the port blockade.
Workers at the loss-making company, partially owned by
Veolia, have been on strike since June 24, occupying ferries and
blockading access to part of Marseille's port for 16 days over
fears a restructuring would mean less favourable labour terms.
"There is only one solution to save the link between
Marseille and Corsica, and this solution requires a
court-ordered restructuring..." Veolia Chief Executive Antoine
Frerot told radio station BFM Business.
"From my point of view, to come under court protection as
soon as possible is the best solution," he added.
Frerot also confirmed that Veolia, which holds its Transdev
joint venture with state bank CDC, was willing to sell its stake
in SNCM for a symbolic one euro and to give up on obtaining
payment of around 100 million euros ($136 million) in debt.
Owned 66 percent by Transdev - a public transport joint
venture between water and waste group Veolia Environnement and
state-bank CDC - SNCM has racked up cumulative losses of 250
million euros over the past decade despite subsidies it receives
from French authorities.
Transdev and the government prefer a Chapter 11-style
restructuring that could allow new owners to buy and operate
SNCM's ships. For their part, the strikers want assurances that
promises to limit job cuts under a past plan will be respected
and that investments will be made.
The stalemate is holding up Veolia's plans to sell to CDC
most of its stake in Transdev - a tram, train and bus operator
with turnover of 7 billion euros and 90,000 staff in more than
($1 = 0.7331 Euros)
(Reporting by Natalie Huet and Francois Revilla; Editing by