Public transport strike in Lyons

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Over March-April 2002, the public transport network of Lyons in France was hit by a 22-day strike called by trade unions over wage demands. The dispute was brought to an end by an agreement concluded on 11 April.

The Lyons Public Transport (Transports en commun lyonnais, TCL) network is run by the Lyons Public Transport Corporation (Société lyonnaise des transports en commun, SLTC), a subsidiary of Kéolis (owned by Paribas, SNCF and Vivendi). The network has a workforce of 4,088 and carries 1.2 million passengers per day. On 20 March 2002, a strike of TCL employees was called by an inter-union committee made up of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT), the French Christian Workers' Confederation (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens, CFTC), the General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT), the General Confederation of Labour-Force ouvrière (Confédération générale du travail-Force ouvrière, CGT-FO) and independent unions.

According to trade union figures, 70% of bus and subway drivers and 45% of tram drivers participated in the strike action, which brought the TCL network to a standstill for 22 days. The last lengthy network-wide period of industrial action in Lyons occurred in 1988 and went on for 28 days.

The background to the dispute was that, on 19 March 2002, the day after annual pay and conditions talks had opened, trade unions rejected management proposals and issued a demand for wage increases of between 5% and 7%. This demand was based on their claim that TCL employees had not had a wage increase other than one linked to inflation since 1993. Talks held between 21 and 22 March failed to resolve the dispute. The unions revised their wage demand to a minimum 3.2% increase and management maintained its original offer of 1.6% or restaurant coupons. Consequently, in the absence of a fresh offer, the unions decided to step up the strike action and continue it indefinitely .

The Joint Rhône and Lyons Transport Commission (Syndicat mixte des transports pour le Rhône et l'agglomération lyonnaise, SYTRAL), made up of local authorities in the Lyons region, which runs and oversees the TCL network, sought unsuccessfully to end the dispute.

Approximately 250 employees blockaded bus, tram and subway depots between 4 and 8 April. The SLTC used bailiffs to serve the employees concerned with 'breach of freedom to work writs' (constats d'entrave à la liberté de travail), and then brought court proceedings against striking union and non-union members alike.

The judge hearing the case deemed that, in light of the fact that the workers involved in the blockade 'had voluntarily ended their action', there were no grounds for court action against the 61 strikers appearing before the court. The judge went on to encourage both parties to 'establish social dialogue at the TCL network' through mediation. The unions decided to continue industrial action 'until such time as mediation could get underway', though without blockading depots.

An agreement was finally reached on 11 April. It provides for a 2% increase in wage and holiday bonuses to be paid in three instalments in 2002, and for the payment of wages deducted during the strike in instalments until August 2002.

This latest dispute is the third in eight months at the TCL network (FR0105153N). The president of the SYTRAL pointed out that the cost of any wage increase awarded by the SLTC would be borne by the SYTRAL and therefore by passengers and taxpayers. The lawyer representing the striking workers stressed the unusual nature of this latest industrial action 'stemming from a specific management structure, which hinders the negotiation process'.

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