The French Senate has voted by a large majority to support President Emmanuel Macron’s railway bill aimed at reforming the country’s state-owned Société nationale des chemins de fer (SNCF).
France’s National Assembly adopted the bill in April, sparking a wave of discontent and national strikes led by railway unions.
Macron’s plan is to unify SNCF under a fully state-owned body with two subsidiaries; SNCF Mobility, which will work as the operator, and SNCF Network, the new infrastructure manager. Under the bill, the government will also gradually absorb €35bn of the company’s €47bn debt.
Further changes to be applied include open-access passenger operation and the end of SNCF’s right to recruit staff with special privileges, which guarantees a job for life and early retirement.
French Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne called for every player in the industry to take responsibility for the upcoming reform.
She said: “During the Senate review, we were able to both confirm the main principles of the reform – openness to competition, the new organisation of SNCF, and ending status recruitment – and enrich the text through dialogue, particularly through discussions that I conducted in recent weeks with the trade unions.
“The next step will be early next week at the meeting of the joint committee. The reform is coming to an end in the coming days. Everything is now settled: a bill will be finally adopted; unprecedented financial commitments made by the government, and a course drawn for branch and company negotiations.”
As part of the reform, every region in France will be responsible for handling the local TER services from December 2019. Regions will also be allowed to take over rolling stock and workshops required for the operation of the services.
President Macron’s bill has been largely criticised by rail unions, which recently rejected the proposal by voting in an internal ballot. The results saw an almost total majority of workers express their disappointment towards the plan.
Although the government often reiterated that the changes would not affect the status of existing employees, labour unions scheduled a wave of strikes taking place for two days out of every five in June.
Despite the protests, Macron seems unlikely to back down and, having just obtained the Senate’s approval, he seems more determined than ever to pursue his plan.