French Railway Fined for Discrimination Against Migrant Labor

  • SNCF fined for discrimating against Moroccan migrant workers
  • Moroccan workers fought SNCF for 15 years in French courts

France’s national rail operator SNCF discriminated against Moroccan workers it hired in the 1970s on everything from work contracts to pensions, a Paris labor court ruled on Monday.

The state-owned company that operates the country’s famed high-speed TGV trains was ordered by the court to pay over 800 Moroccan workers an average of 200,000 euros ($226,000) each, or about 150 million euros in total. The Paris Prud’Hommes court ruled that SNCF didn’t give the men the same access to contracts, careers, salaries and pensions as its French employees, their lawyer, Clelie de Lesquen, said. SNCF said it was in compliance with the law when most of the contracts were signed, and will examine its legal options.

The decision marks an end to a 15-year fight by the migrant workers, dubbed “Chibanis,” an Arabic word the laborers used to describe themselves. It’s also the second legal decision for SNCF in the past year. In December, French and U.S. authorities agreed on a compensation package for Holocaust victims deported by the rail company during World War II.

“SNCF was in denial despite all the proof and facts,” de Lesquen said by phone. “Our case was solid and it’s a great relief for the Chibanis.”

Between 100,000 and 170,000 workers came to France between 1962 and early 1973 to plug a labor gap. The government-orchestrated migration policy ended in 1974, after the oil crisis hit the global economy. Most of the people came from France’s former North African colonies, including Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Small Pensions

Although their special contracts stated that they would have the same rights as their French counterparts, in reality they had no opportunities for promotion and were kept in low-pay, low-status jobs, de Lesquen said.

At the end of their employment, most of the workers stayed on in France. They or their widows, called the Chibanias, live in the country today on pensions that are about half those of their former French colleagues in similar positions, she said.

The compensation being paid to the Chibanis will come after the French government in December agreed to put $60 million in a compensation fund for survivors and families of Holocaust victims transported by SNCF to Nazi concentration camps. In 2007, a court in Toulouse ruled that the SNCF was also liable for similar deportations of French citizens.