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Truckers Get Early Retirement Demand, But Strike Continues

November 28, 1996

PARIS (AP) _ A government mediator trying to end a crippling 10-day-old strike by French truckers announced a partial accord early Thursday and ended the talks. But labor leaders said the strike would continue.

The unions said they were not satisfied with the wage proposals, and vowed to continue the strike that has paralyzed France and spilled into other parts of Europe.

Mediator Robert Cros announced the partial agreement shortly after midnight, saying it would be signed Friday. He did not release details.

But a union representative said the truck companies’ offer of a 1-percent pay increase and a one-time bonus of $300 was not enough.

``There is deep disagreement on the wage problem,″ said Roger Poletti of the Workers Force union, one of five representing the truckers.

``We were especially disappointed in the proposal on working hours,″ said Joel Le Coq of the French Labor Confederation. ``We cannot call for the removal of the blockades in these conditions.″

Transport Minister Bernard Pons, however, termed the talks ``a success.″

``They achieved a positive result and I will not understand, under these conditions, if the roads remain blocked,″ he said after the talks broke up.

Poletti had earlier claimed Cros had quit, but Cros later said that he remained as mediator, that his mission had been completed and that he was reporting back to the Labor Ministry.

The standoff has pitted truckers demanding higher pay, better hours and early retirement against company owners under pressure from an increasingly competitive European economy.

It continued to paralyze the country Wednesday. Drivers blocked traffic or fuel depots in about 250 places, and more than 2,000 gas stations were running out of gas, with 500 entirely out, according to radio reports. Some municipalities were limiting gas purchases.

During a marathon session ending earlier Wednesday after almost 20 hours, the truckers won a key victory in their demand for earlier retirement. Under the agreement, truckers who have worked for 25 years can quit at 55 and collect 75 percent of their pay.

More and more, the strike was being felt elsewhere in Europe. Foreign truckers were having trouble getting into France and even worse, some were unable to get out of France.

Germany’s national trucker lobby appealed to its government to help rescue about 1,000 German truckers stranded in France.

In Britain, more than 100 trucks an hour were headed through the city of Kent for the continent, and were running into huge traffic jams as they approached the port of Dover.

``I hope I can get back for Christmas,″ said Richard Wilding, a trucker from Gloucestershire who was on his way to Austria. He had spent more than 12 hours in a traffic jam.

The strike has caused a new headache for British and French companies accustomed to shipping their goods through the Channel Tunnel. The ``Chunnel″ has been closed since a fire last week, leaving shippers with only ferry or air service.

The effects of the truckers’ strike were wide-ranging:

_German automaker Volkswagen said the strike had disrupted deliveries of parts from Spain for its main factory in Wolfsburg. German radio quoted VW officials as saying work shifts may have to be shortened next week.

_In Portugal, about 100 National Republican Guards, many with dogs, were patrolling a border crossing where Portuguese truckers were trying to prevent French trucks from crossing in both directions.

_Spain’s Agriculture Ministry said the country was losing $16 million a day because it was unable to transport its products. Some 500 Spanish truckers were stranded on French highways, the ministry said.

In other labor unrest, some French transportation unions had called for action Wednesday in solidarity with the truckers. But most Paris-area trains and subways were running normally, though service to the Normandy city of Rouen was severely disrupted.

Pilots for Air France and its domestic unit Air Inter started a two-day strike Wednesday to press their own demands, forcing cancellation of about half their flights. Hundreds of travelers were stranded at Paris’ two international airports and in other French cities.

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