Pay disputes see Christmas strikes on French trains and in Britain's health services

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By Thomas Hill  with AP and AFP
British ambulance crews strike for higher pay
British ambulance crews strike for higher pay   -   Copyright  Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

Hundreds of thousands of French people may well find themselves driving home for Christmas this year rather than taking the train as a strike by ticket inspectors hits high-speed routes.

On some services in western and northern France, only one in two TGV trains are likely to run following the action called by an informal association of on-board staff through a Facebook group rather than by their trade union.

Government spokesman Olivier Véran appealed to the strikers to “hear the legitimate demand of French people to be able to return to their family”.

The industrial action has given a seasonal bonus to coach, car hire and car share services. Flixbus told AFP it had seen a 10 to 15 per cent increase in passenger numbers compared to 2019. One car hire firm was offering a weekend car hire for the price of a cancelled rail ticket.

Many pay disputes in Europe this year have been driven by inflation, which is running at 6.2 per cent in France.

In the UK, November’s inflation figure was 9.3 per cent and British travellers and public service users are facing disruption caused by strike action across a number of sectors.

About 1,000 Border Force staff responsible for checking passports at airports are striking from today until New Year’s Eve with the army being drafted in to try to keep services operating, while Heathrow airport baggage handlers plan to walk out on December 29. A rail strike as well as an overtime ban will run from Christmas Eve until December 27.

On December 28, British paramedics and ambulance staff will take part in a second day of action. National Health Service workers in England and Wales have been given an average 4.75 per cent pay rise. British nurses are also locked in a pay dispute with the Royal College of Nurses calling for a 19 per cent pay rise for its members.