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France digs in as strikes deepen

Thursday, May 26, 2016 - 01:40

Unions say power output in France has fallen by at least 5 gigawatts after members of the CGT union at utility EDF joined a rolling nationwide strike against planned government reforms. But, as Ivor Bennett reports, the government is refusing to give in to their demands and may be trying to exploit union divisions.

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Barely two weeks to go until it hosts the Euro 2016 football championships, this is not what France needs. Around a quarter of petrol stations are dry Blockades at oil depots and refineries now spreading to ports. (SOUNDBITE) (French) CGT UNIONIST MATHIEU PINAULT, SAYING: "We think we have the momentum to really impact the economy. So in all logic it should force the government to withdraw this bill which isn't at all in anyone's interest." The bill they're protesting makes it easier for firms to hire and fire. And gives greater control over pay and conditions. But as the protests ratchet up, so does the response. (SOUNDBITE) (French) FRENCH PRIME MINISTER, MANUEL VALLS, SAYING: "I respect the CGT union, I know about its history -- its total involvement in the history of our country, the resistance, the desire to give rights to workers -- but the CGT cannot halt the country, the CGT cannot impose a law." There are signs the hardline stance is working. Less than a third of services were affected by a strike on the railway network. While a walkout at nuclear plants cut just 6 percent of total capacity. But unions still have a trump card - a presidential election this time next year. SOUNDBITE (English) PANMURE GORDON, MARKET COMMENTATOR, DAVID BUIK, SAYING: "There's not a lot of time on any of the government's side in order to put things right, and they'll all be conscious of the fact of wanting some stability. So, OK, they'll square up to the unions now, but I think they'll back off eventually." Hinting at that, a suggestion in a TV interview from France's finance minister that the reforms could be tweaked But until then, consumers are the ones paying the price of the stand-off.

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France digs in as strikes deepen

Thursday, May 26, 2016 - 01:40