French truckers blockade roads in bid to cut hours

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The Independent Online

French truckers have begun a day of disruptive action in their quest for a shorter working week.

French truckers have begun a day of disruptive action in their quest for a shorter working week.

Lorry drivers set up blockades across the country, snarling traffic flowing through the country.

The truckers' action comes just three weeks after truck company bosses caused two days of havoc with blockades at French borders to protest the 35-hour workweek.

Barrages were put in place at some points as early as Sunday night, the first going up at 10 p.m. at the Bridge of Europe in Strasbourg, which is used when crossing to and from Germany.

By early Monday morning, there were more than 50 blockades, the National Centre for Road Information said. In some areas, protesting truckers allowed private cars to move past the barricades but in other areas, traffic was completely stalled by lines of stationary heavy trucks.

The barricades are concentrated at border crossings and around some of the country's main cities. Barricades blocking all traffic were in place around Lille and Tourcoing in the north and two in the south in the Rhone Alpes region.

At least four trade unions are backing the protest in order to strengthen their hand in negotiations on the shortened workweek.

Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's government is cutting the workweek to 35 hours from 39 hours, in a bid to cut the stubborn unemployment rate.

Truckers' bosses held a protest Jan. 10-11, blocking trucks from entering France at the Spanish, Italian and other borders.Their action brought them tax breaks on diesel fuel and permission to allow trucking employees to work more than 35 hours a week if they were paid overtime.

That infuriated truckers who drive only in France. They had been set to go onto the 35-hour workweek program before the talks.

The government set a limit of 220 hours per month for international drivers and 208 hours for those who drive within France.

To placate truckers, the government said it would punish employers who make truckers work more than a 55-hour week (220 hours a month).

Unions are not thoroughly opposed to the limits as they reduce the current hours averaged by all trucker - about 250 hours a month. Still, they want international truckers hours reduced to 200 per month and would like short-haul truckers to observe the 35-hour week.

Two unions, including the Workers' Force, also seek a pay increase for the shorter work week so that salaries are not cut.

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