France's government moved on Tuesday to calm protests against labor law reform ahead of the monthlong European soccer championship, announcing a pay rise for schoolteachers and pledging to speed up reorganization talks at the SNCF railways.
The Socialist government of Prime Minister Manuel Valls is urging the hard-line CGT union that is leading a rail strike as of Tuesday evening to propose ways out of the confrontation over a labor reform bill that will make hiring and firing easier.
President François Hollande says he will not back down on key provisions of the proposed reform.
But he acted on Monday to prevent a range of grievances coalescing into a broader protest movement by restoring slashed funding for research and pledging public money to settle a dispute over performing artists' unemployment insurance.
Hollande also hinted in an interview with Sud-Ouest newspaper he would announce a softening of cuts in state financing for local authorities when he addresses a congress of mayors this week.
In moves on Tuesday, the government announced a pay rise for schoolteachers worth 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion) by 2019 and, with a rail strike set to start later in the day, said it had intervened over the heads of management of the SNCF state railways to speed up negotiations on a reorganization.
"We need to accelerate things," Transport Minister Alain Vidalies told France Inter radio, referring to a dispute that has poisoned labor relations at the SNCF.
SNCF management had been asked to put final reorganization proposals to unions by next Monday to help clear the air.
The rail stoppage and calls for strikes in other transport sectors later this week have raised the specter of chaos when France hosts the Euro 2016 soccer tournament from June 10 to July 10, when some 2.5 million fans are expected in stadiums, including 1.5 million foreign visitors.
While Hollande rejected the CGT's demand to withdraw the labor reform, his ministers said they hoped to defuse the conflict if CGT chief Philippe Martinez showed willing.
"We've been hearing in the last few hours that Mr. Martinez is saying 'Let's talk,' " Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri told RTL radio. "I am waiting for proposals from the CGT."
Prime Minister Valls insisted his government would not gut the reform of key elements such as a clause that gives firms more scope to agree in-house deals on pay and conditions, saying that beyond that, "My door is open."
On Monday evening, Martinez said in a debate on RTL radio: "Let's talk again," adding there was "no precondition."
Valls also condemned comments by employers' leader Pierre Gattaz, who accused the CGT in an interview with daily Le Monde of behaving like "thugs" and "terrorists."
Railway workers were being called out on strike from 7 p.m. on Tuesday for what the CGT and other smaller unions have warned will be a rolling stoppage. But the reformist CFDT union, the largest by membership ahead of the CGT, withdrew its strike call after the government signaled concessions.
SNCF said the strike was expected to halt 40 percent of high-speed TGV trains and up to two-thirds of services on other lines and disrupt some Thalys services to Belgium and the Netherlands but not Eurostar trains to London.
Vidalies said calls for stoppages on the RER and Metro urban transport networks from June 2 were unlikely to be as disruptive because the CGT had less clout on those services.
Pilots at Air France announced on Monday that they too were ready to strike over planned salary curbs but had set no date. Air controllers are also planning stoppages from Friday.
Strikes in other areas have brought several oil refineries to a halt, but oil industry federation chief Francis Duseux said car fuel shortages seemed to be easing with around 1 in 5 gas stations short of fuel.
Some 90,000 police and security teams are being mobilized to keep fans safe during a monthlong soccer fiesta. France remains under emergency rules after attacks in which Islamist militants killed 130 people in Paris last November.