French train services were severely disrupted on Tuesday as tens of thousands of state rail workers protested over plans to reduce rest periods and other protective work practices in preparation for Europe-wide deregulation, Reuters reported.
The third strike in two months halved high-speed train services and cut other intercity rail journeys to as few as one in three, although international Eurostar and Thalys connections appeared largely unaffected by the 24-hour stoppage.
At issue is a fundamental rewrite of working conditions that management at the SNCF state railway company hopes will enable it to cope when EU-wide legislation throws national passenger services open to competition in 2020.
"For the moment this is just a massive warning strike," said Philippe Martinez, head of the large, hardline CGT union.
With the exception of Britain, which entirely privatized its railways in the 1990s, most EU countries have limited deregulation to the pace set by common accord at European Union level, starting with freight in 2006 and a few cross-border links thereafter.
In France, where the TGV high-speed network is the world's second-biggest after Japan, the stakes are particularly high. A staff of around 150,000 is often singled out as enjoying enviable job and pension rights under decades of monopoly status.
Despite predictable resistance from more militant unions such as the CGT and Sud-rail, however, the latest stoppage is also being backed by unions like the more conciliatory CFDT on the grounds that low-cost competition should not set the standard.
Lufthansa cancels flights
Also in Germany, the country’s flag carrier Lufthansa has cancelled 895 flights scheduled for Wednesday from six airports in Germany as government workers call short-term strikes in the run-up to wage discussions later this week, AP reported.
The airline said Tuesday that its hubs in Munich and Frankfurt would see the most disruption.
Public-sector workers doing ground handling and security checks were expected to walk off the job.
Lufthansa, which is not part of the negotiations, urged passengers to check their flight status on LH.com.
Strikes took place Tuesday at places like kindergartens and swimming pools. Garbage pickup and street cleaning in Munich were also affected.
The strikes come ahead of Thursday's negotiations between the ver.di union, which is looking for a 6 percent pay rise for its 2 million members, and the government.
In Britain, thousands of doctors posted picket lines outside hospitals around England in the first all-out strike in the history of the National Health Service.
The strike — taking place over two days — marks the first time that even emergency services are affected by industrial action.
The strike reflects the impasse between the government and the junior doctors, who are physicians with up to 10 years' experience. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has appealed to the medics not to drop emergency cover, but insisted that the government would not be "blackmailed" into scrapping an election pledge to bolster weekend services.
More than 125,000 appointments and operations have been cancelled and will need to be rearranged as a result, over the dispute between the government and the British Medical Association.