French rail company SNCF ‘has too many staff and pays them too much’

French rail company SNCF 'has too many staff and pays them too much'
SNCF staff inspect a section of track in the French Alps. Photo: AFP
French rail operator SNCF has too many staff and pays them too much. That is the conclusion of the Court of Auditors, in a report that risks inflaming further tensions with employees.

A large number of SNCF staff are preparing for 'unlimited' strike action over December and the company has been hit with several smaller industrial actions this autumn as staff say they are demoralised and under pressure.

But the report from the Court of Auditors published today criticised the company for failing to control its wages bill and streamline its staffing.


SNCF has abolished 6,000 full time equivalent posts since 2012, but the auditors' report says this is not enough and more needs to be done to implement technical changes that will decrease staffing levels.

The report also noted that SNCF is using about 500 temporary workers every year to help with its staffing.

The company was also severely criticised for failing to manage its wage bill.

Wage increases at the company are automatic based on time served, not dependent on seniority or skill level, and end-of-year bonuses are also not linked to performance.

The report acknowledges that the current leaders at SNCF inherited many of the problems they face, but suggested that the company need to do more in making its dialogue with unions efficient and productive.

This could be something of a challenge for SNCF, as the company was hit by two separate unexpected strikes this autumn – one over safety issues and one over local pay agreements at a maintenance depot – and faces major strike action from December 5th as unions stage a co-ordinated protest over the government's planned pension reforms.

Employees at SNCF are among many public sector workers in France who over the years have negotiated 'special regimes' on pensions which allows them to retire early, in some cases at the age of 50.

The SNCF staff also have several other perks due to a 'special status' that has been in place for railway employees since 1920, when the then-fairly-new industry was struggling to attract recruits.

Among the things on offer are enhanced protection from redundancy, low cost housing and a 35 hour working week.

Over the years there have been other deals put in place – for example a recent union agreement outlines that every SNCF worker works an extra 1 minute and 52 seconds per day, and in exchange gets the Pentecost religious holiday as an extra day off.

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