Pay deal averts Midsummer train chaos

Midsummer revellers can breathe a sigh of relief after employers and unions agreed a new pay deal and averted a train strike that promised to wreak havoc over the holiday weekend.

Pay deal averts Midsummer train chaos

“We were very anxious to avoid a conflict. It would have caused incredible problems for the general public, who would have found it difficult to get to work and Midsummer celebrations,” said Jonas Milton of the Almega employer association.

The agreement signed between Almega and the Seko union will run from April 1st 2013-March 31st 2016 and will ensure salaries rise by 6.8 percent over the period.

The deal also includes an agreement on a new formulation concerning parental leave, including compensation for up to six 30-day periods.

Two joint working groups will also be formed, with one set to review issues concerning threats, violence and working alone. The other will work to improve the integration of the agreement into various areas of operations.

Seko president Janne Ruden told the TT news agency that strike action had looked likely as negotiations remained deadlocked.

“It was only during the afternoon that it began to ease,” he said.

Ruden expressed particular satisfaction that the deal can be revoked annually and that a solution has been reached for Seko members working with the Götalandståg rail operator.

“We are very proud that we Seko managed to… protect our members from deteriorating employment conditions when changing train operator,” he said in a statement.

“Almega has now taken responsibility for the Swedish model, based on strong collective agreements.”

The three-year agreement includes salary increases of 2.7 percent, 1.8 percent and 2.3 percent respectively.

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Hundreds of thousands take to streets against Macron’s pension plan

Demonstrators in France took to the streets Saturday for a seventh day of protest against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform plans, with police expecting up to a million people at rallies nationwide.

Hundreds of thousands take to streets against Macron's pension plan

Unions hope they can still force Macron to back down as parliament debates the draft law, with the National Assembly and the Senate moving towards a final vote as early as this month.

“This is the final stretch,” said Marylise Leon, deputy leader of the CFDT union. “The endgame is now,” she told the franceinfo broadcaster Saturday.

This week, Macron twice turned down urgent calls by unions to meet with him in a last-ditch attempt to get him to change his mind.

“When there are millions of people in the streets, when there are strikes and all we get from the other side is silence, people wonder: What more do we need to do to be heard?”, said Philippe Martinez, boss of the hard-left CGT

“This country’s leaders need to stop being in denial of this social movement,” said CFDT head Laurent Berger on Saturday.

Police said they expect between 800,000 and one million people at 230 planned demonstrations across France, of which up to 100,000 were likely to march in Paris.

It was the second protest day called on a weekend, with unions hoping that demonstrators would show up in greater numbers if they did not have to take a day off work.

“I’m here to fight for my colleagues and for our young people,” said Claude Jeanvoine, 63, a retired train driver demonstrating in Strasbourg, eastern France. “People shouldn’t let the government get away with this, this is about the future of their children and grandchildren,” he told AFP.

READ ALSO: 5 minutes to understand … French pension reform 

At the last big strike and protest day on Tuesday, turnout was just under 1.3 million people, according to police, and more than three million according to unions.

Several sectors in the French economy have been targeted by union calls for indefinite strikes, including in rail and air transport, power stations, natural gas terminals and rubbish collection.

The French Senate, meanwhile, early Saturday resumed debate on the reform whose headline measure is a hike in the minimum retirement age to 64 from 62.

Senators have until Sunday evening to conclude their discussions, and a commission is then to elaborate a final version of the draft law which will be submitted to both houses of parliament for a final vote.

Should Macron’s government fail to assemble a majority ahead of the vote, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne could deploy a rarely-used constitutional tool, known as article 49/3, to push the legislation through without a vote.

An opinion poll published by broadcaster BFMTV Saturday found that 63 percent of French people approve the protests against the reform, and 54 percent were also in favour of the strikes and blockages in some sectors.

Some 78 percent, however, said they believed that Macron would end up getting the reform adopted.

READ ALSO: LATEST: How strikes will affect France this weekend