Emmanuel Macron takes on unions to cut rail workers’ rights
Strike action being discussed after reforms unveiled by French prime minister Édouard Philippe
Emmanuel Macron is to push through sweeping reforms to France’s vast state rail system and cut rail workers’ special employment rights – tackling one of France’s riskiest political issues.
Any question of overhauling the SNCF state railway company has always proved controversial, with the train network grinding to a virtual halt for weeks when trade unions opposed changes to rail staff’s benefits in 1995.
But the French prime minister, Édouard Philippe, said that the government would quickly push through changes by special executive decree without a vote in parliament if necessary. Trade unions are discussing possible strikes on 12 March and will join bigger public sector strikes on 22 March.
Unlike Britain, where rail services were privatised in the 1990s, the SNCF remains state-run and is seen as a national treasure. But, although the train network has been rated among the best in Europe in terms of speed, quality and price, urban commuters and regional passengers increasingly complain of overcrowding, inefficiency, delays and problems.