French rail strike takes its toll

Rail services in France were hit hard again on Wednesday, the second day of a two-day stoppage. An estimated 86 percent of trains failed to run during the day, with tempers running high and reports of police being deployed to quell trouble.

This week’s strike is a taste of things to come, with similar stoppages planned every week until the end of June – and maybe even across the summer.

A group of trade unions is protesting against plans by President Macron to rationalise France’s rail service, the efficiency of which is compromised by the special status of rail workers and benefits not to found in other sectors, such as 28 days paid holiday per year, retirement at 52, and jobs for life after a two and a half year probationary period. Average wages for rail workers are also slightly higher than the French average, at €3,090 per month.

International rail services have also been affected, with five services from London to Paris and two services from London to Brussels and Lille cancelled on Wednesday.
The French rail service currently loses € billion each year, and the government is committed to major reform.

It will take several weeks to see if it’s the government or the unions who win the battle, but history does not present much hope for the reformers. A similar stand-off 20 years ago resulted in a government climbdown.


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