Rifts emerge among French rail unions over pursuing strikes

French rail workers faced off against police during a protest Monday in Strasbourg, eastern France, against the government's overhaul of state rail operator SNCF
AFP

Paris (AFP) – France’s second-largest rail union said Tuesday that it would not extend a long-running strike against an overhaul of state train operator SNCF, breaking ranks with other unions after lawmakers approved the reforms last week.

SNCF staff have been striking every two days out of five since early April against the reforms, which deny job-for-life and early pension guarantees for new hires.

President Emmanuel Macron says the changes are needed to reduce costs and improve flexibility at the heavily indebted operator ahead of the opening of EU passenger rail traffic to competition.

The four major SNCF unions are to meet Tuesday night to discuss whether to pursue the strikes beyond the original end date of June 28.

“The UNSA will not continue the strike in July,” its head Roger Dillenseger told AFP ahead of the meeting.

“We have lost almost everything possible, but it’s not over,” he said, adding that the UNSA could carry out other actions in coming weeks as talks on a new sector-wide labour accord with SNCF officials continue.

Last week the biggest rail union, CGT Cheminots, vowed to push ahead with the stoppages, starting with strikes on July 2, 6 and 7 — which would overlap with the end of the public school term and mass vacation travel.

The SUD-Rail union also wants to carry on, while CFDT officials were still debating their position Tuesday.

Strike participation rates have steadily tapered off, reaching their lowest level on Monday at just 10.8 percent — though unions had said they would ease off to avoid travel disruption for students taking their high school exams.

Opinion polls have shown most voters back the proposed changes, which would see the state take on 35 billion euros ($40 billion) of the operator’s 47 billion euros of legacy debt.

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