April 24, 2018

French rail unions take on Macron with mass rolling strikes

04 April 2018, 12:47 | Rufus Hill

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

French strike affects Swiss rail connections

The beginning of the strikes, named "Black Tuesday", will disrupt France's 4.5 million train passengers, as nearly half of all train staff and 75 percent of drivers intend to participate in the walkout.

Only one in eight high-speed TGV trains and a fifth of regional trains were running on what French media have dubbed "black Tuesday". No trains are expected to be operating between France and Italy, Spain and Switzerland, the railway company said. Over the next three months, the rail strikes are slated to affect two out of every five working days.

They are protesting a government plan to prepare SNCF before the service is opened to competition and to end some worker benefits.

Start on Tuesday, the unions will certainly strike 2 in each 5 days for the complying with 3 months to transform their rage at Macron's brand-new reforms.

A majority of French people view the strikes as unjustified, according to an Ifop poll published on Sunday.

Workers are striking to stop President Macron's proposed overhaul at state rail operator SNCF.

The unions appear weaker now, however, and are divided over their responses to Macron's many social and economic reforms.

"This government has had an easy time so far, but this is a real political battle." former transport ministers Dominique Bussereau, who supports the government reforms, said on France2 television. The government believes it is acting with a mandate for change, but the unions have always succeeded in making the government back down.

"This little melody being sung of "privileged railway workers" is intolerable", said Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union.

Macron says the SNCF, saddled with 46.6 billion euros ($57.5 billion) of debt, needs to make major changes as European Union countries prepare to open passenger rail to competition by 2020.It is 30 percent more expensive to run a train in France than elsewhere in Europe, according to his government, which wants to strip new SNCF hires of special rail workers' status guaranteeing jobs for life and early retirement.

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.

Air France, where unions are pushing for pay increases after several years of frozen wages, said it expects to operate 70 percent of long-haul flights, 76 percent of medium haul, and 85 percent of domestic flights.

SNCF manager Guillaume Pepy, mentioned: "I have to be really clear ... the strike activity will definitely be thoroughly complied with as well as his mosting likely to make the lives of many various other individuals really challenging".

Borne has sought to ease tensions with assurances that current SNCF employees that have to move to a competitor in the future would keep most of their advantages.

Energy sector workers already plan to join the strike action from April 3 to June 28, to protest against the planned liberalisation of the power sector.

The CGT has called for public and private sector workers nationwide to strike on April 19, but in a sign of union division, private sector unions have so far declined.

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