PARIS (Reuters) — Sporadic strikes and protests disrupted commuter travel
and led to the cancellation of flights at Orly airport south of Paris on Thursday as trade unions and students demanded that the French government ditch planned labour law reforms.
Riot police using tear gas intervened on the fringes of protests in cities such as Nantes on France's western coast.
Workers burned tyres on roads to halt traffic in parts of the country, while tens of thousands of protesters took part in street marches in Paris and dozens of other cities to demand the withdrawal of a reform bill parliament will debate next week.
Union leaders sought to maintain the momentum of a movement that, including Thursday, has staged four separate days of protest over legislation designed to make it easier for employers to hire and fire.
The unions say the legislation is not the way to address an unemployment rate stuck above 10 per cent.
At Orly airport, France's second-largest, airlines were told in advance to scrap 20 per cent of flights, although traffic was reported as largely normal at the larger Charles de Gaulle airport north of the capital.
The head of France's large CGT union attacked the proposed law, saying it would allow employers to short-circuit national regulation of basic worker rights by giving bosses greater freedom to set terms of pay, rest and overtime rates.
"We want it withdrawn as long as the goal means the law is no longer the rule, and that every company can opt out on work time or overtime rates. That's unacceptable," CGT chief Philippe Martinez said.
Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament are due to debate the bill for the first time next Tuesday.
Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri has already diluted the text to drop reforms such as a cap on financial settlements in cases of unfair dismissal.
With traditional Labour Day rallies organised for Sunday May 1, local media are speculating about the risk of a more broad-based movement, even a rolling strike, as called for by some of the marchers.
An opinion poll published by BFM TV suggested close to 80 per cent of French people fear an escalation, despite news this week of a significant drop in the monthly jobless count.
France's Labour Ministry reported the steepest fall since the economic boom days of 2000, in a rare boost for President Francois Hollande a year from elections.
Others demonstrating since the outset include a youth protest movement which has been holding night-time vigils in Paris's Place de la Republique and other city-centre venues since the end of March.
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