French Train Traffic Disrupted by Strike on Work Conditions

  • SNCF grapples with third labor protest in two months
  • Unions add pressure as market set to open to competitors

Rail traffic across France was hampered Tuesday as workers defend labor conditions and state-owned SNCF prepares for competitors to join its passenger market for the first time.

About half of high-speed trains and between a third and half of local trains were running Tuesday, SNCF said. Eurostar warned that trains between Paris and London may experience 30-minute delays, while Thalys, which links Paris to Brussels, Amsterdam and Cologne, reported disruption without giving details.

The third rail strike in two months comes as French President Francois Hollande grapples with various protests and criticism of his policies, ranging from the Up All Night sit-in in central Paris to the main business lobby’s threat to drop talks on unemployment insurance. Whatever their sympathies, rail workers are focusing on their own industry.

“We do need this branch agreement because we need rules for new companies that will enter the market and compete with the SNCF,” Philippe Beaumont, deputy general secretary at the French Democratic Confederation of Labor, said in a telephone interview.

In parallel, SNCF is also negotiating a company agreement with unions, which could be more favorable to employees than the branch agreement. “We don’t want employees to be the ones who suffer from the competition,” Beaumont said.

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