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STRIKES

Defiant French rail union to continue strike action into summer

There was bad news for travellers and holidaymakers in France on Friday when France's main rail union, the CGT, announced it will continue to stage strike action in July in protest against the government's rail reforms.

Defiant French rail union to continue strike action into summer
AFP

Summer holiday plans might have to be rearranged.

Laurent Brun, the head of CGT rail workers said: “We will continue through the month of July. For how long? We will see. It's not a question of just stopping at a certain date, so long as the government is trying to force its way through,” he said.

Those reforms were adopted by parliament this week.

The rolling rail strikes which have been held by the CGT and three other unions since early April were due to end on June 28th.

It is unclear as of yet whether the other trade unions will also decide to continue their industrial action. Brun added that his union would try to find a way of alleviating the cost of lost pay for strikers, after 30 separate days of disruption.

While the two days strikes, held every five days, have been gradually weakening over the weeks, they have still been causing disruption to rail services, especially regional TER and Intercité trains.

While the CGT is the main rail workers union, if they were to continue the strikes without the support of the other unions, the impact on services will likely be much reduced.

SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy had spoken previously of his confidence that unions would not risk disrupting France's sacred summer holidays by continuing their strikes, calling rail workers “responsible people”.

The problem for trade unions is that this week French senators approved the reform of the debt-laden state rail operator SNCF, handing President Emmanuel Macron a key victory in his push to reform wide swathes of France's economy.

The government pushed through the emblematic shake-up of train services despite stiff resistance from rail workers and their unions, who have carried out their longest strike in three decades in an attempt to derail the plan.

“The law has been passed definitively, and it will be applied,” Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said after the Senate voted to pass the measure, its final legislative hurdle.

“Unions don't make the laws, parliament does. And parliament has listened extensively to the unions,” added Gerard Cornu, the senator in Macron's 
Republic on the Move party who spearheaded the rail law.

“The strike no longer serves any purpose,” he said.

READ ALSO: Strike calendar in France – The days you might want to avoid travel

Strike calendar in France: The days in June you might want to avoid travel

Unions have failed to win over public opinion since the strike began in April, with workers walking off the job every two days out of five.

Just 12.8 percent of SNCF workers participated in the most recent strike on Wednesday, the lowest rate since it started, and disruptions to the country's 4.5 million daily rail passengers have eased markedly in recent weeks.

Train drivers in particular are resisting plans to deny job and pension guarantees to new recruits, as well as plans to turn the SNCF into a 
joint-stock company, which they see as a first step toward privatisation.

The government however has agreed to enshrine in law its pledge not to sell the new SNCF shares being created as part of the corporate revamp, addressing a key union concern.

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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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