Just how good do French rail workers really have it?

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Just how good do French rail workers really have it?

French rail workers are threatening a historic strike after the government announced it would end their special worker's status, but just how good have they had it?


President Emmanuel Macron's government unveiled plans to push through reforms of France's mammoth rail system.

But the plans have not gone down well with rail unions who are threatening all-out war against the government, or in other words major strikes.

What has really angered them is the announcement that new recruits will no longer benefit from a special employment status of rail workers or cheminots as they are called in France, which is fabled for the perks it offers.

The government says the move is necessary due to the need to balance the books - the country's rail operator SNCF is in debt of €46.6 billion - but the rail workers themselves insist they are being made a scapegoat and ending their special status will change nothing.

The special status has been in place since 1920 and was created to try to attract people to work on the country's railways, where conditions were tough at the time. Around 92 percent of SNCF's 150,000 strong workforce benefit from the status.

But how good have they actually had it. Here's a look at what perks and benefits cheminots in France have been entitled to.

A job for life

Rail workers are effectively safe from what's called "licenciement economique" of financially motivated redundancies. In other words they have a job for life if they so wish. There are only three cases in which a worker's job can be terminated: if they choose to resign, retirement or if they are struck off. The only downside is that bosses want to be absolutely certain they have employed the right people so trial periods can be far longer than the average three or six months. Indeed for the top roles they can last up to two and a half years.

A special pension plan

A rail worker has one main advantage when it comes to his pension: it is based on his salary for the last six months rather than the average over 25 years which is the case for the general pension scheme. SO while the average pension in France in 2013 was €1,760 per month rail workers were earning €1,960. The pension is increased by 10 percent for any parent with three children and then 5 percent more for anyone with four children.

Rail unions point out however that workers pay 12 percent addition pension contributions compared to private sector employees.

Early retirement age

Until 2016 the retirement age of rail workers stationed in one place such as admin staff was set at a minimum age of 55 and 50 for train drivers and conductors. But various reforms have pushed that age back to 57 for staff and 52 for drivers and conductors. In comparison the retirement age in the private sector is currently 62.

But the number of years of service needed to gain a full pension has steadily increased to fall in line with the country's general pension scheme.

Automatic career advancement

SNCF staff see their salary increased every three years thanks to the fact they automatically go up a grade. The average salary of a cheminot is €3,090 gross a month, around 100 euros more a month than the average salary in France.

However it's worth pointing out that while top execs are well paid some 60 percent of rail workers earn under €3,000 a month.


All rail workers are employed on a 35-hour week and get 28 days paid holiday each year - three days more than the legal minimum. On top of that admin staff get 10 days of RTT - effectively extra days holiday to make up for the fact they will work more than 35 hours a week. Drivers get 22 days RTT and any staff who work nights get 28 days.

Access to housing

Thousands of housing units are made available to rail workers around the country, many of them at reduced rents. Unions justify this by saying many workers don't earn enough to pay the exorbitant rent prices in cities like Paris. Some of these lodgings are reserved for those staff who must be on call and therefore live in close proximity to their place of work.

Special social security scheme and free train tickets

In several major cities in France SNCF staff have access to free medical centres. They benefit from free or massively reduced rail tickets, and their spouses and any children aged under 21 can get 16 train tickets each year that cost 10 percent of the full price.

Parents and grandparents can get four free tickets per year.

According to a recent report by France's state auditors some 1.1 million people travel at reduced prices but only 15 percent of them are active rail workers. The auditors estimate the cost of these free tickets to be €25 million a year.

Rail workers say the free tickets compensate for the fact that workers often have to work shifts, weekends, holidays and nights.



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also