French truckers end crippling blockade

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PARIS, France – French trucking companies returned to work on Jan. 13 after blockading border crossings and highways throughout the country for three days, and they have a new deal in hand.

The compromise will see long-haul drivers permitted 220 working hours per month, not to exceed 56 hours per week, and short-haul drivers 208 hours a month, not to exceed 48 hours per week.

There also will be negotiations on overtime pay.

The trucking companies set up the blockades to protest a proposed limit of 35 working hours per week, which the socialist government of Lionel Jospin is trying to impose in an effort to control France’s high unemployment rate.

“It’s impossible to set that limit on working hours for truckers when you consider time for loading and unloading,” says Beatrice Vinstock, a spokeswoman for the CLTI haulers’ association in Paris.

“On average, our drivers are working 48 hours a week as it is.”

The French Ministry of Transport didn’t negotiate until the European Union’s Transport Commissioner, Loyola de Palacio, pressured it to address the problem.

“We attempted to alert the government several times to the possibility of protests,” says Vinstock, “and we tried to set up meetings with them several times, without any reaction from them.”

In the last contract between trucking companies and their workers, in 1994, there was an agreement to significantly reduce the number of working hours for both the managerial and driving staff, says Vinstock.

But France borders several other European countries that rely on French routes to transport goods, and the blockades forced the threat of sanctions from the European Union. However, in some of these countries, drivers are not being pushed into a 35-hour working week.

French trucking companies fear being driven out of business if they can’t compete.

Vinstock says that the haulers’ unions were surprised by positive media and public support across the country.

“We told the public that we did not want to inconvenience them, especially after the major storms in France, but that the blockades were symbolic of France being blocked to trade if the work limits were introduced,” she says. n

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