The French Government and the railway unions are facing off for another confrontation, this time one that may last for several months.
Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, who, according to Harris opinion poll, has 69 percent of voters on his side, has said that he will pass a major reform of the SNCF by the summer, including ending the coveted status of “cheminot” – job-for-life contracts that came into place when the SNCF was nationalised In 1937 – for newly-recruited railway workers.
The militant CGT des Cheminots union, which is also the biggest railway union, has reacted by planning a one-month strike to change the Government’s mind. All four of the biggest rail unions are meeting this week to plan a united response, and strike action seems to be the most likely outcome.
The Prime Minister has laid out his position: “The situation is alarming, not to mention untenable. The French, whether they take the train or not, are paying more and more for a public service that works less and less well,” he said on Monday, February 26.
He called for more efficiency and flexibility at the SNCF. He pinpointed the fact that running costs on French railways are 30 percent higher than elsewhere. However, he stopped short of agreeing with the Spinetta report, which called for the closure of local lines.
Meanwhile Finance Minister Bruno Le Marie has said that state-owned rail service cannot go on losing €3 billion a year and paying €1 billion in interest on its debt, which topped €47 billion at the end of 2017.
He has “urged the unions to reconsider”. Without reform, SNCF “will run straight into a wall,” the Minster commented on France 2. “Once the SNCF returns to profit … we can envisage the state taking over the SNCF’s debt.”