French pilots poised to call off strike

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The Independent Online
STRIKING French pilots seemed last night to be ready to abandon a three days' old strike which has threatened to disrupt long-distance travel to the World Cup next week.

As negotiations resumed, it emerged that the main pilots' union had voted to accept the broad outline of concessions offered by Air France and the French government. Many of the details remained undecided, and the views of smaller pilots' unions were unclear, but all the signs pointed to an agreement to call off the strike by today.

A flurry of embarrassing but less significant industrial actions continues. A nationwide strike by ticket inspectors will disrupt train services today but a strike by a minority of train drivers on the first day of the World Cup next Wednesday is expected to have little impact.

The pilots' strike, which has grounded up to 90 per cent of Air France flights worldwide this week, has been a source of deep mortification to the government. France had hoped that the World Cup would present an image of a welcoming, modern and capable nation.

Examination of the small-print is likely to reveal that the pilots got the best of the argument. Air France had asked the pilots, who earn an average annual salary of pounds 75,000, to accept a 15 per cent pay cut over three years, in return for shares in the company.

On Tuesday, Air France suggested that the pay cut could be "temporary": in other words the pilots could take the shares and then have their pay levels gradually restored. The government is expected to make up the rest of the savings, possibly by offering concessions on state employment contributions. At first the pilots rejected this proposal but the largest union decided yesterday morning to accept it in principle as part of a wider settlement.

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said yesterday he would open the files on illegal wiretaps carried out during Francois Mitterrand's presidency, Reuters reports. Mr Jospin said he would waive the official secrets act for the wiretapping files. Mr Mitterrand died in 1996, seven months after leaving office. The files contain information on journalists, lawyers and politicians whose telephone conversations were monitored from 1982 to 1986 by Mitterrand's anti-terrorism unit.