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French Trucking Protests Halted

January 12, 2000

PARIS (AP) _ Traffic was moving again on French roads Wednesday after truck owners lifted blockades that for two days had stalled foreign trucks at France’s borders in a protest over gas prices and a shorter work week.

While the bosses were appeased after late-night talks Tuesday with the government, their drivers were not. They have promised their own blockades.

Truck owners had been protesting a 30 percent rise in diesel fuel prices over the last year. But their main concern was a government program to reduce unemployment by cutting the work week from 39 hours to 35. The bosses said it would make truckers far less competitive than European counterparts.

During Tuesday’s talks, Transport Ministry officials decided trucking employees could work more than 35 hours a week if they were paid overtime beyond the 35th hour. Truck owners will also receive tax breaks on diesel fuel.

``Even though nothing has been signed, the state has made a promise to the four professional unions. That is worth gold,″ said Guillemette de Fos, spokeswoman for the FNTR union.

By Wednesday afternoon, all the barricades that had placed at French border crossings had been removed.

But employees are unhappy with the concessions granted to the bosses because truckers who drive only in France had been set to go onto the 35-hour workweek program. Now they will have to work between 48 and 56 hours a week, like their long-distance counterparts who travel through Europe.

``It’s a real gift to the bosses. There is no reduction in working hours,″ said Alain Villette of the CFDT union. ``Once again, it’s the employees who are going to have to pay.″

Truck drivers have already called for a smaller round of blockades Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, and warned they could act sooner. Their unions met with Transport Ministry officials Wednesday.

French truckers are among Europe’s most militant. In November 1998, a strike disrupted France and snarled traffic with neighboring nations for five days. In 1996, truckers stopped work for 12 days.

In October, truckers blocked roads and highways as part of Europe-wide protests against plans to limit weekend driving in European Union countries.

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