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French rail strike weakens but disruption continues

Commuters in France faced more travel headaches on Thursday as the French rail strikes continued. Nevertheless the industrial action caused far less disruption than when the strikes began in April.

French rail strike weakens but disruption continues
A commuter waiting inside a suburban train at Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. Photo: AFP
Rail timetables were disrupted across the country as a rail workers kept up the fight against the government's overhaul of the SNCF and changes to their workers' status. 
 
One TGV out of two was scheduled to operate, which at a closer look meant three out of five trains were running on the TGV Est line, two out of every five on the TGV Atlantique line. 
 
Meanwhile, one out of every three trains were operating on the TGV Nord services and one out of two were running on the TGV Sud-Est services. 
 
For those planning to travel on Ouigo trains, three out of five trains were said to be circulating. 
 
On international services, three out of five trains were running, with Eurostar and Lyria operating four out of five trains and two out of five trains, respectively. 
 
For Thalys trains, the schedule was said to be running almost as normal for the France-Germany route, while SNCF was planning one train in three on the France-Italy route and one out of two trains on the France-Spain route.
 
SNCF has also said that regional services were be disrupted and advises rail users to consult the website to check how the industrial action is affecting their area. 
 
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French strikes: What can I do to avoid plane or train travel misery?Photo: AFP

On Intercite services, most areas saw one out of three trains running except the Bordeaux-Marseille line where just one in six were operating. 

For commuters travelling in and around Paris, SNCF planned to run every other train on RER A and RER B. But on RER B, which serves both Paris airports, users had to change at Gare du Nord.
 
On the RER D, where two trains out of five were circulating, the connection at Châtelet and Gare de Lyon was also suspended.
 
Thursday marks the seventh two-day rolling strike by rail workers and the 13th day of action overall.  
 
The strikes have caused major travel headaches for the 4.5 million daily rail users in France although they are causing less disruption than when they first started on April 3rd when only one in eight TGV services was running. 
 
Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament recently voted overwhelmingly in favour of a reform of the train network which will erode railway workers' privileges and change the status of the SNCF.
 
'I am going to see this through to the end'
 
Macron is hoping that the law will be passed quickly, undermining the  rolling strikes which are scheduled until the end of June.
 
He is largely backed by public opinion, with 61 percent of respondents to a  recent Ifop poll saying they wanted the government to push through the reforms.
 
In a recent television interview, the French president who had hardly spoken about the conflict publicly, vowed to stand firm. “I will go to the end of these reforms,” he said. “It is essential we go ahead, not to do so would be a political hypocrisy”.
 
“I believe, as the unions do, that we need a strong rail service, a strong SNCF, and I respect their struggle,” Macron told TF1 television in his first comments on the rolling strikes launched last week.
 
French rail unions threaten to extend strikes into July and August
Photo: AFP
 
“But I'm also asking them to fully consider the needs of our fellow citizens who have to put up with this, of the companies that could fail because of this strike,” Macron said.
 
“The right answer is not to abandon this reform, but to carry it out together,” he said. “But I am going to see this through to the end.”
 
But trade unions have vowed to continue their fight even threatening to continue to strike into the summer holidays
 
The CGT union blasted him as “a hesitant president who didn't say much, who  in all likelihood has not got a good understanding of the reform plans, and  who, far from reassuring us, has strengthened the determination of the rail  workers”. 
 
The unions object to plans to deny new SNCF recruits benefits such as jobs  for life and early retirement, and fear Macron's proposal to transform the operator into a state-owned joint stock company could eventually see it  privatised.
 
Rail users in France weren't the only ones suffering as a result of transport strikes on Thursday. 
 
People planning to fly with Air France were also facing transport headaches on Thursday, with the airline forced to cancel 15 percent of its flights as a result of the ongoing pay dispute at the airline. 

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STRIKES

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.

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