French railway workers strike over proposed reforms

5 Apr 18

French rail workers have walked out over president Emmanuel Macron’s plans to loosen labour rules in the public sector, including an overhaul of the state-run rail network.

But the country’s prime minister Edouard Philippe said on Thursday that he would not back down on the plans, despite the turmoil in the country.

About half of essential rail staff and a large majority or train drivers were expected to have walked out on Wednesday.

“We have been asking for the same thing for several weeks – that the government completely reconsider its plan. They need to start again from scratch,” Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT trade union, told France Inter radio.

France’s state rail network SNCF said 29.7% of staff took part in the second day of strikes on Wednesday, compared with 33.9% the previous day. However, unions put their estimates much higher, saying about 60% of workers took action on the first day. 

Macron’s government has said SNCF, which is losing €3bn a year, needs to change radically to deal with competition when the network monopoly starts to end in 2020 in line with liberalisation rules agreed with the European Union.

Macron has proposed to cut rail workers’ special employment rights and turn SNCF into a publicly listed company.

The prime minister said he would not enter into talks over how much of the SNCF’s debt of €46bn the government would soak up until progress was made on the future organisation of the SNCF and employee rights.

He said: “I’m open to discussion on debt…but in return for extremely clear commitments that will transform the company’s operations.”

The four main rail unions, CGT, Sud Rail, CFDT and UNSA-Railways, plan to strike for two days out of every five until the end of June.

Public sector workers also went on strike across France last month over the government’s plans to reform labour laws.

The overhaul includes changes to unemployment insurance and plans to cut public sector worker numbers by 120,000 by 2022.


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