French SNCF rail strike to defy Macron labour reforms

Train drivers and other workers at the French state railway SNCF have begun a major strike that is expected to paralyse rail travel across France.

Staff began three months of rolling stoppages on Monday evening as trade unions push back against President Emmanuel Macron’s labour reforms.

It is expected to be the biggest wave of industrial unrest since Mr Macron’s election last May.

The waste collection, electricity and energy sectors also expect strikes.

On 22 March, tens of thousands of teachers, nurses and other workers joined rail staff on strike – a sign of widespread opposition to Mr Macron’s plans for state sector liberalisation.

SNCF workers enjoy generous conditions, including automatic annual pay rises, early retirement, 28 days of paid annual leave and protection from dismissal. Their close relatives are also entitled to free rail tickets.

The Macron government wants to phase out the special SNCF contracts, proposing to put new hires on contracts like those that apply elsewhere in industry.

The aim is to open up the state railways to competition from 2023, in line with EU requirements.

SNCF is struggling with big debts.

A senior SNCF manager, Alain Krakovitch, told Le Parisien newspaper that only 12% of high speed TGV trains would operate on Tuesday, and the low-cost Ouigo service would be at a standstill. Only one in five regional trains would be running, AFP reported.

But international services would be only marginally affected, Mr Krakovitch said, with about 75% of Eurostar trains running and about 90% of Thalys services to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

The railway unions plan to strike two days out of every five until the end of June.

Employees of Air France, who are demanding a 6% pay rise, have already begun industrial action. However most flights are not being affected.

The strikes will be a major test of the French trade unions’ clout. Just over 11% of the French workforce is unionised – one of the lowest levels in the EU – but the unions traditionally punch above their weight, economically and politically.

The BBC’s Lucy Williamson in Paris says many union members see Mr Macron as the man who wants to break the power of the unions.

Strikes in September failed to stop Mr Macron passing laws that make it easier for firms to hire and fire.

 

  

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