Rail unions have described the move to hold a series of two-day rolling strikes throughout the spring as “innovative”.
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 on Thursday after a meeting of rail operator SNCF's four main unions.
With the government planning to push through the reforms using parliamentary decrees rather than putting them to a vote by MPs it appears both sides are entrenched in their positions, which means bad news for passengers.
Although the strikes may yet be called off if negotiations succeed it appears unlikely given the anger among unions for whom scrapping the special employment status of rail workers, who often have to work weekends, nights and holidays is a red line.
The unions took the step of announcing the dates on which they plan to strike, which will total 36 days. It follows the one-day walk out on March 22nd that was held to coincide with a strike by civil servants nationwide. The industrial action led to 60 percent of TGV trains being cancelled as well as half of normal train services. RER commuter services in Paris were also hit by cancellations and delays.
The impact on rail services including TGVs, TER and Intercité trains won't be known until a day or two before the strikes when SNCF will know how many workers have answered the unions call to walk out.
Their aim is to bring the country to a standstill and hope the public turns against the government as happened in 1995 when a rail strike lasting several weeks paralysed France and forced ministers to back down.
SNCF has announced that they will not be selling train tickets for those days in April when rail workers are due to strike.
The calendar below highlights in blue the days when rail workers will be on strike. The days with a red circle underneath are for when Air France staff are also due to walk-out which will cause headaches for plane passengers. April 3rd is definitely a day not to travel then.
(Strikes Calendar. Blue is when rail workers are meant to strike and red is for when Air France staff are due to walk-out. Image: The Local)
Guillaume Pepy, head of SNCF said the announcement by unions was “bad news for the 4.5 million French people who take the train everyday”.
Laurent Brun, head of the CGT Cheminots rail union, put the blame on the government.
“The unions see no will to negotiate on the part of the government… and take responsibility for an intense and long-lasting conflict,” he said.
But transport minister Elisabeth Borne said they 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,” she told BFM TV on Thursday.
“My hope is not a test of strength, my hope is for negotiations.”
*ALERT – Please note The Local France will soon be (very politely) asking regular readers to consider paying a small amount to become members in order to be able to continue reading all of our articles. We really hope you stay with us. Find out more here.“