Source AP ©

French Unions to protest against the bill requiring minimum service during public transport strikes

French Unions are of opinion that the bill requiring minimum service during public transport strikes will limit and lead to ending the right to strike. French lawmakers opened debate Monday after the Unions called for demonstrations Tuesday to protest the bill, approved July 19 by the Senate.

It is one of a series of key measures that conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was elected in May, promised during his campaign, and there were fears it would be extended beyond public transport.

"If today you want to go on strike, can you do it with this text? Yes, you can," Labor Minister Xavier Bertrand said in defending the bill against criticism.

The bill requires a secret vote after eight days of a conflict over a potential strike and makes it obligatory for individuals to say whether they plan to strike 48 hours before doing so. The measure is aimed at ending spontaneous strikes that regularly hit some branches of public transport, notably after a bus or subway driver is attacked.

It is "imperative that companies know who will be present on the day of a strike," Bertrand said.

"Financial penalties" would be imposed on individuals who strike without first signaling they plan to do so, government spokesman Laurent Wauquiez said.

Socialists contended the bill was a first step toward ending strikes, which are a frequent occurrence in France. Public transport strikes can translate into late arrivals at jobs for employees in other sectors or, in the case of a massive strike, force some to stay home.

"This is manifestly an attack on the right to strike," Socialist lawmaker Alain Vidalies said.

Greens party spokesman Yann Wehrling denounced the measure in a statement as "hypocritical and populist." He claimed the real goal of the bill was not to improve public service but to "diminish workers' capacity of resistance" so the government can "have free hands for reforms to come."

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