French rail unions to stage waves of strikes from April to June

French rail workers have agreed to launch rolling strikes starting April 3 against the government's plan to overhaul the state-owned operator SNCF, the CGT union said on Thursday.

French rail unions to stage waves of strikes from April to June

The rolling strikes will be carried out on two days out of every five until June 28 unless the government drops its plan, which includes stripping new recruits of jobs-for-life and other benefits, the CGT said after a meeting of the company's four main unions.

“The unions see no will to negotiate on the part of the government… and take responsibility for an intense and long-lasting conflict,” Laurent Brun, head of the CGT Cheminots rail union, said.

The government plans to push through its reform plans by decree in the coming months to improve services that cost 30 percent more to operate than elsewhere in Europe.

It says it must move quickly to get the SNCF back on sound financial footing before passenger rail traffic across Europe is opened to competition next year.

“This is a necessary, indispensable reform,” Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne told BFM television on Thursday.

“My hope is not a test of strength, my hope is for negotiations.”

But unions say depriving new hires of a special status which offers job guarantees and extra pension rights is a red line.

They have already called for a nationwide strike on March 22.

The SNCF has a debt load of nearly 47 billion euros ($58 billion) and a huge pension burden — for decades drivers could retire in their early 50s.

The government hopes to introduce more flexibility in working conditions and contracts while pledging to invest 3.6 billion euros in infrastructure over the next 10 years.

The overhaul would also turn the SNCF into a publicly listed company, though the state would own 100 percent of the shares.

Could striking French rail unions leave France paralysed once again?



French customs officers strike over job cuts

Customs officers across France will walk out on Thursday in protest at job cuts that unions say will “weaken the customs network”.

French customs officers strike over job cuts

The national strike on Thursday, March 10th is expected to lead to delays at ports, airports and on the Eurostar.

The strike, which will include a rally outside the National Assembly building in Paris, was called by the CFDT-Douane and has the support of other unions. 

A work-to-rule protest over pay and conditions by customs officers in 2019, under the shadow of Brexit, led to delays and disruption at airports, as well as ports including Calais and Dunkirk, and on Eurostar trains.

Unions are calling on the government to axe plans to switch responsibility for import duty collection to the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques by 2024, at the cost of 700 customs’ officer jobs – and, according to strikers, tens of billions of euros to State coffers.

“We are asking for the reforms to be stopped, mainly that of the transfer of taxation, which is disorganising the network with the elimination of nearly a thousand jobs,” CFDT-Douane’s secretary general David-Olivier Caron said.

The planned job cuts come after years of restructuring and streamlining that has seen thousands of positions disappear, the unions say, when customs fraud and smuggling is rising because of a lack of resources.