Wednesday, 17 October, 2018

Train strike causes travel chaos in France

A view of the office of the French Jewish Students Union at the University of Paris A view of the office of the French Jewish Students Union at the University of Paris
Ray Hunter | 04 April, 2018, 02:06

PARIS-President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday faced paralyzing transportation and utility strikes across France as workers and students protested his plans to overhaul the public sector.

- Only one high-speed TGV train out of eight is scheduled to run and one regional train out of five, which will result in employees across the country struggling to get to work.

"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 overall proportion of rail workers participating in the work stoppage including employees on trains and on the ground- was 33.9 percent, the company detailed in a statement.

The railway strike started today in France with high impact, after the cancellation of over half the trains expected in a country where 4.5 million persons use that service every day.

"It doesn't make us happy to go on strike".

"We are very satisfied with the number of strikers because due to the strike practically the entire railway network was paralyzed", Francois Grasa, leader of the FO Cheminots (Railway Workers) Union, said.

In a bid to boost efficiency, the government wants to end rail workers' jobs-for-life, automatic annual pay rises and early retirement rights - benefits that date back to the nationalisation of the SNCF in the 1930s.

Borne also said she was looking for dialogue with the unions, a claim that Santinelli, the rail union spokesman, disputed.

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"I want to be very clear. the strike action will no doubt be widely adhered to and is going to make the lives of a lot of people very hard", SNCF boss Guillaume Pepy said in a radio interview, as quoted by Reuters.

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. "The salaries aren't incredible, the work conditions are hard, and for some it means working every other weekend".

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

Macron wants to transform SNCF, which adds $3.69 billion (3 billion euros) of debt a year to a pile now running at $57.80 billion (47 billion euros), into a profit-maker.

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.

As well testing Macron's reform mettle, the rolling strike will also challenge the resolve of unions to maintain a common stance.

Nationwide rail strikes caused misery for passengers in France on Tuesday as the country prepared itself for months of potential travel disruption.

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