By Ardee NAPOLITANO
PARIS, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Eurotunnel unions called off their strike and said rail traffic would resume Thursday night, French BFM TV reported, after an unexpected strike by French workers interrupted traffic on the undersea link between Britain and continental Europe, upending Christmas holiday plans for thousand of travellers.
The protest over bonus pay caused massive disruptions on the busy London-Paris route during the day-long strike. Some trains had to return to the French capital just before reaching London, prompting the French government to call the industrial action unacceptable.
Thousands of travellers were stranded at the Gare du Nord high-speed train terminal in Paris.
"We were probably like half an hour from reaching London, suddenly, we hear this announcement," Sonia Kapur, a 50-year old American tourist told Reuters.
"Then finally, they said: 'There's a strike, we have to go back to Paris.' So that was devastating, because we have a lot of plans," she added.
Getlink GETP.PA, the operator of the cross-Channel tunnel used by train company Eurostar, said the strike called by French unions had resulted in an interrupted service and the closure of terminals in France and Britain.
The tunnel operator is not covered by a 2007 French law that makes a 48-hour strike notice compulsory for transport operators, which is why the walkout took everyone by surprise.
The company said trade unions had rejected a bonus payment of 1,000 euros ($1,097.60) announced by management, demanding that the amount be trebled.
Unions said in a statement they had asked for a better share of the profit after good traffic figures this year. The group's revenue was up 36% to 1.4 billion euros in the first nine months of the year, compared to the same period last year.
Train operator Eurostar said on X: "We would recommend postponing your journey if you can, even if it's until tomorrow."
"Well, it's a bit of a pain, but there's not really much we can do about it," said 50 year-old Corrina Lynn, a British tourist from Essex who was heading to London from Paris.
"It's the stuff of nightmares that you really don't want to happen. But we're just going to have to deal with it and try to figure something out," she added.
Her nine-year old son Matthew, wearing a Disneyland Paris hat, was equally stoical. "I'm a bit frustrated because I want to go home, I want to relax, but we'll stay here in Paris for a longer time," he said.
The tunnel strike was also blocking freight and the LeShuttle vehicle transport service. More than 1.1 million trucks and more than 2 million passenger vehicles have crossed the Channel aboard the shuttle service so far this year.
($1 = 0.9111 euros)
(Reporting by Tassilo Hummer, Juliette Jabkhiro, Piotr Lipinski and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Michel Rose, Susan Fenton, Barbara Lewis and Diane Craft)
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