PAPEETE STRIKERS THREATEN BLOCKADES

admin's picture

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Dec. 1) – Union leaders prepared Wednesday for the second day of an unlimited general strike by promising to set up blockades and threatening to disrupt Thursday's opening of the French Polynesia Assembly debate on the Temaru government's proposed 2006 budget.

The first day of the general strike began Wednesday with an estimated 3,000 to 4,500 mostly French State and territorial government civil servants marching from a Papeete athletic field to the Assembly building, where they staged a sit-in.

The union leaders threatened to upgrade the impact of their strike after several hours of negotiations with Temaru government officials broke down. But at one point there was hope that the strike would not last longer than its first day when efforts were made to prepare a draft agreement.

However, the union leaders ended up rejecting the agreement, blaming the government's vice president, Jacqui Drollet, for the breakdown. The key stumbling block remained the same—the refusal by leaders of a confederation of 16 labor unions to accept the government's proposed increase in a solidarity tax on the wages of all salaried employees. That, along with other tax reform measures, is part of the proposed 2006 budget that the Assembly is due to begin debating Thursday morning.

"We made proposals to find the money in order not to increase the CST (solidarity tax on wages), but Mr. Drollet wants to keep the proposal just as it is," said union leader Jean-Marie Yan Tu. "He (Drollet) will be responsible for what is going to take place," the secretary-general of the A Tia I Mua union said, promising "blockades" on the island of Tahiti as reprisals.

Blockades during labor union disputes and protests against the local government are a tradition in Tahiti. They usually take the form of blocking access roads into downtown Papeete from either the west or north coasts. Under such circumstances, the public is allowed to enter the French Polynesia capital on foot, parking their motor vehicles outside the city limits.

There was a record of some 90 percent support for the general strike among customs officials working at the Tahiti-Faa'a International Airport and at the Port of Papeete. Picket signs went up at the port, preventing merchandise from cargo ships and warehouses to leave the port area for distribution.

Meanwhile, the first indication of a potential broadening of the general strike occurred Wednesday when Air France crews held a general assembly meeting to decide whether to stage a one-day sympathy strike Thursday.

"We informed the Air France personnel of the social contents of the tax reform" proposals of French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru and his government, said Eric Delcuvellerie, secretary of the airline's crewmembers. "We have talked about the inflation from increased prices and advanced the non-advantageous aspect of this reform for us."

An Air France flight was scheduled to leave Tahiti for Los Angeles and Paris at 8:50 a.m. Thursday. "If the plane doesn't take off, it will not be so much the result of a lack of flight crew but more the result of the strike at the airport," he said. "The decision will be made on the basis of services operating at the airport—border police, customs, security—which are not likely to function normally."

Delcuvellerie also signaled a potential problem involving an Air France flight from Paris to Papeete via Los Angeles. That flight left the French capital Wednesday night Tahiti time, but may not be able to continue to Tahiti from Los Angeles if jet fuel deliveries are prevented from arriving at the Tahiti-Faa'a International Airport, Delcuvellerie said. That would occur if striking union blockades prevented fuel trucks from leaving fuel storage tanks in an industrial area next to Papeete's port.

Under such circumstances, Delcuvellerie said, Air France would have to leave Papeete-bound passengers in Los Angeles. The Air France plane was one of six flights due to arrive in Tahiti Thursday from Los Angeles.

Most of the strike support came from French and territorial government employees, who far outnumbered striking private sector employees on the first day of the unlimited general strike, which began at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. The same support among customs and border police on subsequent days could create slowdowns in the processing of arriving and departing passengers on international flights for the rest of the week.

Air Tahiti, the domestic airline for French Polynesia and the biggest local employer with some 1,000 employees, reported no disruptions Wednesday. "There are no strikers at our place; everything is normal," said Christian Vernaudon, Air Tahiti's chief executive officer and the architect of President Temaru's proposed tax reform.

Among the several French and territorial government operations affected by the strike Wednesday was the French State owned and operated television station, RFO Télé-Polynésie. The separate nightly news programs in Tahitian and French were canceled Wednesday night. However, the territorial government TV station, Tahiti Nui Television, broadcast its regular Tahitian and French newscasts Wednesday night.

The Education Ministry reported 74 percent participation in the strike among nursery school and elementary school teachers and 22 percent participation by junior high school and high school teachers. Signs were posted in some schools advising parents that classes had been canceled.

The French Polynesia Office des postes et telecommunications (OPT), which operates all post offices and telecommunication operations, reported 18 percent of its employees participated in the strike. That forced the closing of 17 of the OPT's 60 offices, an OPT official said.

The French High Commissioner's Office reported that the strike was supported by 40 percent of the employees, but did not affect the operation of all departments.

The striking union leaders said they proposed filling a shortfall in the government's proposed 2006 budget by borrowing 2.85 billion French Pacific francs (about US$28.1 million) from the Caisse de Prévoyance Sociale (CPS), French Polynesia's social security and welfare system, and other sources, which were not specified. The Temaru government refused such a solution.

Marcel Ahini, the CPS board chairman, proposed borrowing the money from this year's reserves, Vice President Drollet said Wednesday. "And next year, what will we do? We refused the first CPS budget precisely because we would not accept touching these reserves."

Ahini has threatened to resign as CPS chairman if the tax reform measures are not resolved by the end of this week. Meanwhile, the CPS reported that 20 percent of its employees participated in the strike Wednesday, but that all of its offices remained opened.

Accepting that he was the target of the strongest critics of the government's tax reform proposals, Drollet said, "there has to be a scapegoat". But he deplored the unions' refusal to increase the CST solidarity tax, which, according to him, ends up presenting employees with a 700 million French Pacific franc (US$6.9 million) "gift".

Meanwhile, President Temaru said he felt like there was "no proposal" from the union confederation, regretting that the union leaders had not come up with any "concrete simulations". Temaru added, "We are ready to dialog again, and we will always be there if they wish, but as long as they make us some precise proposals."

December 2, 2005

Tahitipresse: http://www.tahitipresse.pf/index.cfm?lang=2

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment