High Impact in First Hours of Railway Strike in France

High Impact in First Hours of Railway Strike in France

Just one in four trains ran in the Paris region, while one in eight high-speed TGV trains were operating.

While French business leaders and economists welcomed the plans, several unions have strongly criticized the proposals.

CGT labour union employees of French state-owned railway company SNCF gather on a platform at the Gare Lille Flandres railway station as part of a nationwide strike by French SNCF railway workers, France, on April 3, 2018.

The unions are somewhat weaker than in 1995 and divided in their response to Macron's social and economic reforms.

Despite the planned rolling strikes by rail workers, Macron plans to push through the SNCF overhaul by executive order, which will allow him to avoid parliamentary debate.

Macron has already faced down the unions over easing labour laws.

Speaking to parliament, prime minister Edouard Philippe said the way the SNCF operated could not continue. "That depends on the government - we are ready to discuss it", he said. Trade unions say they are open to negotiations and will stop striking at any moment if an agreement is found before June 28. "I respect the strikers because going on strike is a constitutional right".

Mr Macron is planning to phase out SCNF's generous contracts, which include automatic annual pay rises, protection against dismissal, early retirement and free tickets for workers' family members.

Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said the government's willingness "to listen, to hold a consultation, to have a dialogue" was unchanged, stressing she is meeting with unions on April 5.

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". Under government plans, these historical benefits would not be applied to new rail staff. "The salaries aren't unbelievable, the work conditions are hard, and for some it means working every other weekend", Mr Martinez said.

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, can be delayed.

Besides the railways, employees in energy and aviation sectors were also to go on strike on Tuesday, making it the biggest industrial turmoil since the election of Macron in May 2017. However little impact was felt in the power sector and on nuclear-reliant France's 58 nuclear reactors operated by state-controlled utility EDF.

Air France, where there's an unrelated strike over pay, said it expects to operate three-quarters of its flights Tuesday.

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