The Summit: Unions row as deal ends truck strike

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The Independent Online
The French truck driver's strike came to a messy end last night after the largest union involved signed an improved pay deal.

The conclusion to the drivers' third strike in five years saw threats and insults being exchanged not between workers and bosses, but between rival union chiefs.

The largest union, the Confederation Francaise de Travail (CFDT) - which was responsible for two thirds of the truck barricades disrupting French and European trade - signed an improved pay deal yesterday. They were accused of "betrayal" and "adultery" by other union bosses. The CFDT, which consulted its members before signing, accused the other unions of "demagoguery".

Some truck barricades seemed likely to persist into the weekend but the relatively brief stoppage - last winter's strike lasted 12 days - is a considerable coup for the Socialist led government of Lionel Jospin. The Prime Minister staked his authority on brokering a deal and promised drivers that the government would make sure that, unlike last time, the employers' word would be kept.

The CFDT said the drivers had secured most of their demands. They will get a 6 per cent pay increase this year and gradual rises over three years to bring their salaries to pounds 12,000 a year for 200 hours work a month. The other unions wanted to hold out for a bigger immediate rise and for the pounds 300 one-off bonus promised to end last year's dispute but not paid.

It remains to be seen how durable the deal will be. The strike was, in part, a test of strength before the transport game rules change next year. From 1 July, European haulage firms can bid for internal business in any EU state. French truckers fear this will take away much of their work. One union chief said: "The next strike will be Europe-wide."

q Mr Jospin promised yesterday that his government would deal within three months withcompensation claims from British hauliers who lost money as a result of last year's strike. The industry was not impressed. "We are very sceptical," said Geoff Dossetter of the 12,000 member Freight Transport Association. "We want to see the colour of France's money and we haven't seen any of it yet."