Tuesday, 24 April, 2018

Railway Strikes Aim to Bring Macron's Reforms to a Halt

Above French President Emmanuel Macron Image Credit Reuters Above French President Emmanuel Macron Image Credit Reuters
| 04 April, 2018, 02:05

A major French railway strike brought the country's famed high-speed trains to a halt Tuesday, leaving passengers stranded or scrambling for other options - and posing the biggest test so far of President Emmanuel Macron's economic strategy.

A strike at railway operator SNCF began Monday evening and will run through Thursday morning, with only one in every eight long-distance trains running and one-in-five shorter regional trips due to depart on Tuesday.

The SNCF national rail authority said only about 12 percent of trains were running during the first of a series of weekly two-day strikes that labor unions have called for the next three months. "That depends on the government - we are ready to discuss it", he said.

The last French president to square off against rail unions over workers' benefits came off worst.

Borne also said she was looking for dialogue with the unions, a claim that Santinelli, the rail union spokesman, disputed. An Ifop poll released over the weekend said 46 percent think the SNCF strike is justified, while 53 percent say it isn't.

The French president wants to phase out lucrative SNCF contracts, which give workers a job-for-life guarantee, automatic annual pay rises, a generous early retirement policy, and free rail tickets for relatives.

Taking on the railway company's 74,000 workers will be tough for Macron, after he pushed through a liberalization of France's labour code and cut taxes on capital in his first year in office.

Rail workers are protesting plans to eliminate a special status that they've enjoyed for decades.


"I hear that there may be fears on the part of the railway workers". "The salaries aren't incredible, the work conditions are hard, and for some it means working every other weekend", Mr Martinez said.

Worldwide train services also face disruption: no trains were set to run between France, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.

Mr Macron will need to keep the public on his side if he is to defy the unions and push the reforms through.

Global traffic also will be reduced for a second day from Paris to London and between France and Germany, SNCF predicted.

Macron wants to transform heavily indebted SNCF into a profit-maker. The unions say the debt was caused by excessive investment in France's high-speed network and accuse Macron of paving the way for privatisation, which French officials deny.

The government has sought to ease tensions with assurances that the arrival of foreign competition on French rail tracks, pencilled in for gradual rollout from 2020 onwards, could be delayed until as late as 2033 in some cases.

The strike's impact immediately was visible on Tuesday.Passengers hitched rides on traffic-clogged roads and shared travel tips online. The Communist-rooted CGT wants the industrial action to spread to other sectors but has so far seen limited support.

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