French rail workers continue strike, disrupt train services

Train services across France have been disrupted again by striking rail workers for the seventh day so far this month.

The persisting rolling strikes went into a new, more challenging phase for the unions on Wednesday, just a day after the lower house of the French parliament approved the very reforms at the state-owned SNCF railway company that the workers are striking to protest.

The strike is due to continue through the end of June.

“Unions are free to do as they see fit… but a majority of French people want this reform,” said France’s Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud in an interview with France 2 public television channel. “There comes a time when you need to bring an end to the strikes.”

SNCF management announced that nearly one in every three high-speed TGV trains were operating and that services were reduced to two in five trains on regional connections, while international services were down to around 75 percent of normal rates.

That is a slightly lower disruption rate than was witnessed at the outset of the strikes on April 3.

Another vote on the reforms is due to take place in the upper house of the French parliament next month before the process of parliamentary approval is completed. But the unanimous approval at the lower house has disheartened some of the striking protesters.

All of France’s four major unions are challenging the reforms, which are the largest since the nationalization of the railways in 1937 and are regarded as a test of President Emmanuel Macron’s determination to pursue a far broader bundle of economic and social reforms during a term that ends in 2022.

The country’s CGT union sought to raise the pressure on Macron with a call for strikes at the Paris subway transport company, RATP, as well.

A leader of CGT in the power sector also warned in an interview in the Le Parisien newspaper that his union could also tamper with power supplies and cause more train delays out of solidarity with rail workers.

Key components of the reform include a gradual phase-out of the SNCF’s passenger rail monopoly, starting with competition on high-speed lines in 2020, and an end to the hiring of SNCF staff on more protective job-for-life contracts than in other sectors.

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