France Prepares for Railway Strike

Beginning this week, many thousands of French rail workers will go on a rolling strike for the next 3 months.

Known as "cheminots," the workers will not work two days for every 5 scheduled days of work, from now until June. The strike is expected to cripple train traffic in France for 36 total days this spring, and it is in response to proposed reforms to the state railway company SNCF. The reforms threatened many benefits French railway workers have come to expect, including employment for life guarantees and early retirement options.

The strike is set to officially begin April 3. Though Guillaume Pepy, who runs SNCF, believes that the effects of the strike will actually start on Monday night, just as many French people are using trains to return home after the Easter holiday. He said that there will only be a few trains operating between the night of April 2 and the morning of April 5. He estimates that just one in five trains will run, and that the number could be as low as one in eight.

According to French law, a certain minimal level of train service must be maintained even during railway strikes. But it is expected that some train lines will not run at all during the strike. The SNCF on Sunday published a list of trains lines that will be affected by the strike.

The French government insists that the SNCF must implement reforms, because of the massive 46.6 billion euro debt it has amassed. The government not only wants to improve the company's finances, it also wants to improve service. To accomplish all this, it has proposed creating competition for train service. Trying to avoid a vote on the reforms, the French government is planning to institute the reforms through parliamentary decrees.

Elisabeth Born, who is the French transportation minister, said on Sunday that she was very unhappy with the oncoming strike. She further said that the world is changing and that the SNCF has to change with it, by offering better service. She went on to say that the strike cannot be justified. An opinion poll published on Sunday indicated that 46% of the French people supported the strike while 53% are opposed to it.

The SNCF currently employs around 146,000 people across France.

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