French Rail-Strike Cost Soars as SNCF Creates Havoc for Macron

Updated on
  • CGT Union says uncompromising government like ‘facing a wall’
  • Train cancellations include Eurostar, high-speed links: SNCF

French Rail Strike Creates Havoc for Macron

Strikes at France’s state-owned SNCF railway operator may have already cost the company 100 million euros ($123 million) as the walkout affecting services including the Eurostar route between Paris and London rumbles into a second week.

The toll calculated by SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy may continue to rise with the standoff intensifying between the government and unions. President Emmanuel Macron’s planned bill to reform the national railway is due to be introduced for debate in Parliament on Monday.

The cancellations are affecting about a quarter of cross-Channel trains, while about 80 percent of high-speed links between French cities and two-thirds of regional trains are running, according to a statement. The fast Thalys link to Belgium and the Netherlands is expected to run as usual Monday but will be partially disrupted Tuesday. Most commuter trains around Paris won’t operate.

Edouard Philippe

Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

CGT labor-union chief Philippe Martinez responded swiftly to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s promise not to compromise on opening up France’s rail market to competition and on ending special labor privileges for future hires. “We are facing a wall,” Martinez told Europe 1 radio on Monday.

Philippe told Le Parisien newspaper Sunday that the state won’t consider taking over SNCF’s debt -- which he said earlier stands at between 46 billion euros and 50 billion euros -- until the changes are made.

Macron has pledged to overhaul the indebted national railroad with steps that include ending for new recruits the job security, early retirement and special pensions long-enjoyed by workers. Attempts to whittle away the benefits have bedeviled French leaders for decades. Now unions have called on workers to step up strikes after failing to gain concessions from the state during talks last week.

Under pressure to explain his plan, Macron will appear on television twice this week. Macron, who has rarely resorted to television interviews since his May election, is scheduled to appear on the midday news show on TF1 Thursday, then again on Sunday on BFM television.

A man waits on a platform in Marseille on April 9.

Photographer: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

The government could handle the public railways debt under several conditions, including a return to operations and talks on modernizing operations, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Radio Classique Monday. Still, the government will have to take France’s public debt into consideration should it have to deal with SNCF’s, Le Maire said.

SNCF employees are heavily unionized and united, with the current walkout scheduled to last until 8 a.m. on Tuesday. Labor groups have planned a series of two-day stoppages every five days until at least June.

An Ifop poll published Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche showed 44 percent of respondents believe the rail strike is justified, compared with 46 percent last weekend. Of those polled, 62 percent said the government should carry out the reforms without making concessions and 72 percent said they’d welcome competition on high-speed and regional lines.

— With assistance by Gregory Viscusi

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