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French airport strike continues as government threatens to use police

Reuters/Benoit Tessier

Little disruption was reported at French airports Wednesday, as a strike by security staff entered its sixth day. Ministers have authorised the use of police to replace strikers but so far no regional authorities have taken such action.

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One trade union walked out of government-mediated talks that had been hailed as “last-chance” on Wednesday morning.

“It a total impasse!” declared Christine Hamiami of the CGT union, calling for airport taxes to be used to answer the strikers' demands.

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At Lyon St Exupéry, the airport where the stoppage has been most solid, traffic was reported to be normal on Wednesday after management summoned “reinforcements” from security subcontractors.

No flights were cancelled at Paris’s Charles De Gaulle airport on Wednesday; according to airport officials, but there were delays of an average of 20 minutes at terminal 2.

Traffic was reportedly normal at Paris Orly, Bâle-Mulhouse and Nice, where a call to strike was issued for the first time Wednesday.

The strikers are demanding a 200-euro-a-month wage rise and improvements in working conditions.

Unions say that their wages are between 1,100 and 1,400 euros per month, while the employers, who include Brink’s, Securitas and Vigimark, say they are 1,600 euros per month.

The conflict took a political turn Tuesday when the Interior Ministry announced that 300 border police and 100 gendarmes were on standby to replace strikers and brandished a threat of new legislation against industrial action in air transport.

“We can’t have the situation where French people are, once again, prevented from going to visit their families,” declared junior transport minister Thierry Mariani.

President Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday told ministers to take “all necessary and opportune measures” to bring the conflict to a close as the Christmas holiday approaches.

The opposition has pitched in with an accusation by Jean-Marc Ayrault, an adviser to Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande, accusing the government of deliberately allowing the situation to get worse.

And the FO trade union accused the government of using the police as strike-breakers.

The strike comes ahead of a National Assembly debate, scheduled on 24 January, of a bill proposing limits on the right to strike in air transport.

It would enforce rules already agreed for rail transport, including a requirement that strikers give two days’ notice of their intention to strike so as to allow their employer to replace them.

An airline pilots’ union announced Wednesday that hit will call a four-day strike in February against the proposed law.

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