French lorry drivers start to block roads after talks stall

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The Independent Online

Lorry drivers began blocking roads across France last night as pay talks with employers led to little progress.

Lorry drivers began blocking roads across France last night as pay talks with employers led to little progress.

While two small unions representing drivers were close to a deal with management, the larger CFDT and CGT unions vowed to begin erecting blockades nationwide at 10pm local time (8pm GMT).

"The action is under way," said Jean-Pierre Remy, an official with CFDT-Routes. "Management has given us an offer that is absolutely not able to satisfy our demands."

Nearly 30 regional union leaders took up positions across the country and set up as many as 80 roadblocks at intersections, highways, state roads and roundabouts, M. Remy said.

Meanwhile, riot police lined up at several oil refineries in France, out of concern that the roadblocks could spill over to major industrial sites. Union leaders say the blockade, in a first phase, would stop only trucks and slow traffic overall. Hauliers would extend it to fuel depots and other targets if talks stalled further.

The government, which has fostered the talks but not taken part, has said it will not allow protesting drivers to bring the country to a standstill.

France is a thoroughfare for freight companies in Western Europe and the economic repercussions of bottle-necked roads could be felt in many neighbouring countries.

Talks collapsed even though haulage company bosses sweetened their offer on pay increases. Unions said the overture was a positive step, but wasn't enough.

CFDT-Route and CGT are pushing for higher salaries and an extra month's pay. They say the government could help to finance the increases by awarding tax breaks to employers.

The Workers' Front and CFTC unions, which represent a smaller number of truckers, said they were "on track" to a deal with bosses, and said they would not participate in the blockades.

"Our anger has partially borne fruit," said Gerard Apruzzese, secretary general of Workers' Front's transport wing. "The offers by management respond to the majority of goals of our regional delegates."

The prospect of the blockades has revived images of the winter of 1996-97, when bitter truckers nearly brought French roads to a standstill for a two weeks and caused economic mayhem.