Truck owners, some of them also drivers, organized the shutdown to protest the government's decision to implement a 35-hour workweek. The government hopes the shorter working week will alleviate the country's high unemployment, but trucking companies say it hurts their ability to compete with truckers in other European countries.
Under the proposal, long-distance drivers would see their work week reduced to an average of 50 hours, and short-haul workers down to the national norm of 35 hours, according to published reports.
French trucking companies already have to pay their drivers more than those in other countries, because loading and waiting times count as work. A 30% rise in fuel costs over the past year has further hurt profit margins.
Truck drivers themselves are not averse to the shortened work week, as long as there are pay increases to offset loss of earnings. French truckers were among the most active in a 1998 European truckers' strike to protest against long working hours. Truck drivers' unions are expected to meet tomorrow to decide whether to stage a protest of their own.
The protest snarled traffic across France, especially at border crossings. Thousands of truckers were reported to be trapped in freezing weather at border towns. British truckers were angry about the protesters' decision to start the strike hours early. The strike was supposed to start at 8 a.m. French time, but British truckers who thought they could get back before the blockade started found borders shut down as early as midnight.