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France's labour reform debated in Senate amid strikes

PARIS – France’s Senate starts debating a contested labour reform on Monday as rail and air strikes continue to disrupt traffic as country hosts the European Championship soccer tournament.

The national rail company, SNCF, said about 30 per cent of regional trains and 10 per cent of high-speed trains were cancelled. There were also disruptions for Paris commuter trains taking fans to the Ireland-Sweden match at the Stade de France on Monday.

About 15 per cent of Air France’s domestic and long haul flights were cancelled due to a pilots’ strike, according to the company.

France’s Socialist government has already faced months of protests and strikes against the labour bill.

The conservative Senate is expected to substantially change the bill proposed by the government. The reform will then need to be debated again in the lower house of parliament, which has final say, probably in early July.

Participation in the train strike appeared to drop in recent days, but seven worker unions and students organization called for strikes and street protests across the country on Tuesday.

Organizers are expecting “huge” mobilization, the leader of the leftist CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said.

Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri will meet with Martinez on Friday. “The text can still be improved, but it is out of the question to alter it, to unravel it,” El Khomri said Monday on France Inter radio.

The fight is over a reform that aims to boost hiring by making France’s 35-hour workweek more flexible, making it easier to fire workers and weakening some union powers.

Some labour groups say the measures will erode workers’ hard-won protections and mainly benefit big businesses.