Rail workers in France have largely rejected President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to reform the country’s state-owned Société nationale des chemins de fer (SNCF) in an internal ballot organised by labour unions.
The ballot, which was presented as a petition, saw almost 95% of voters expressing their disappointment towards the government’s measures and comes shortly before the beginning of a wave of strikes scheduled for two days out of every five during the month of June.
President Macron revealed plans to phase out generous contracts to create a more efficient public railway company open to competition in compliance with EU rules. This would end the SNFC’s monopoly and would abolish job-for-life contracts currently given to most of the workforce.
Rail unions called for a vote on the government measures days after Air France employees forced Air France-KLM’s chief executive to retire. French trade union CGT head Laurent Brun announced the results of the ballot on the eleventh day of rail disruption since April, saying: “This vote totally discredits the SNCF management. It would be a mistake to ignore this warning.”
Another union, SUD Rail, said it was ‘very satisfied’ with the outcome of the vote, as federal secretary Fabien Dumas called for SNCF head Guillaume Pepy to resign. Dumas said: “We are happy for this participation and the results are unequivocal, incontestable. The railwaymen say no to this pact.”
However, with debt worth €46bn to extinguish, the railway company said the vote has no legal value and released figures showing that the level of participation in the strikes has decreased by almost 15% since April. The government also dismissed the ballot as a petition with no legal significance.
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Although many more strikes are scheduled in the coming weeks, Macron appears unlikely to back down. The country’s Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne confirmed the government’s position, telling Europe 1 radio: “I don’t think it was very responsible of the unions to have people believe the reform might not happen.”
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is to meet unions on Friday in a bid to respond to the amendments proposed to the draft bill currently being reviewed by the Senate, which will be voted on at the beginning of June. The government intends to absorb approximately €35bn of SNCF’s total debt.