French riot police and firefighters intervened to clear a busy Paris ring road at rush-hour on Tuesday after taxi drivers angry about competition from private car ride firms threw tyres across the roadway and set them alight.
The nationwide protest by licensed taxi drivers coincided with a walkout by air traffic controllers that forced airlines to cut flights by 20 per cent, and another protest by teachers that disrupted schooling.
The stoppages by air traffic controllers and teachers were part of a wider labour action by state employees, who are being urged by several unions to flex their muscles ahead of talks on long-running wage restraint measures.
Television footage from one flashpoint in western Paris showed a number of protesters dropping tyres from a higher byroad down onto the four-lane Paris ring-road, while others burned tyres that blocked some lanes.
Police arrested some 20 people, mainly in that western Paris incident, according to a Reuters journalist at the scene.
In other cities such as Toulouse in south-west France, taxi drivers said they were prepared to protest for days if necessary in their quest to combat what they say is unfair competition from drivers working for private cab ride services such as Uber.
A stoppage by state-employed air traffic controllers caused the cancellation of about one in five flights, according to the DGAC air transport authority.
Similarly, schools faced no-shows from teachers urged by labour unions to protest against the reorganisation of language learning and other aspects of secondary schooling, and also to demand that the government loosen a wage cap that has been in place for several years.
France’s civil service minister, Marylise Lebranchu, offered little prospect of a significant pay rise after five years of salary caps. Deficit reduction as well as spending rises on security after recent Islamist militant attacks limit the government’s room for manoeuvre.
“The rate of economic growth and state receipts needs to be taken into account and I think that state employees are aware of that,” Lebranchu told France 2 public TV.
Separately, taxi drivers staged nationwide protests include blockages of airport access roads and other strategic road network points.
They argue that the regulation of other car ride services is not being respected, leading to uneven competition at their expense from drivers and companies that do not have to pay as much to set up in business.
Local media reported one incident at Orly airport south of Paris where a hotel shuttle forced its way through a taxi driver blockade, with one person requiring medical treatment.