France 3 workers vote to end strike

PARIS — Workers at French regional pubcaster France 3 voted to end an 11-day strike over the weekend. With France 3 once again broadcasting, speculation mounted over whether France Television president Xavier Gouyou-Beauchamps has been seriously damaged by the industrial action.

The strike, the longest in the French public broadcasting sector for more than a decade, was sparked by the upcoming move of national pubcaster France 2 and France 3 into one single headquarters.

For years, staffers at France 3 have been paid less than their counterparts at France 2 and the idea of being reminded of this on a daily basis proved too much for the France 3 team. The move is also expected to involve some job losses. Government ministers are apparently vexed that Gouyou-Beauchamps didn’t see the trouble coming and try to head it off.

Now the France Television boss has committed himself to making 10 million francs ($1.7 million) available to reduce the wage differences. In addition, a $50 bonus for 1997, due to be paid to France 3 staff, has been upped to $340.

France 3’s local stations will also get $25 million over three years to develop local programming and will be allowed to unhook from the national broadcasts for an additional 26 minutes a week for local shows.

One issue that remains to be solved is the question of working hours. France is about to introduce a 35-hour work week and France 3 staff were pushing management to launch the innovation immediately. Gouyou-Beauchamps has argued that he could not introduce this measure before it had been accepted by parliament, although he has agreed to set up a committee to see what impact a 35-hour week would have on the pubcaster and how it could be introduced.

Opinion is now divided over whether the France Television president has been critically wounded by the industrial action.

At the height of the conflict, unions published a statement from Culture Minister Catherine Trautmann in which she appeared to criticize management at the pubcaster. Sources close to the minister, however, suggested she had been misquoted.

In addition, it isn’t clear how much the strike cost France 3 in lost revenue. Last week, France 3 sources were admitting that the bill was at least $6 million. Estimates suggest it could be nearer $17 million.

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