French rail workers begin nationwide strike

Above French President Emmanuel Macron Image Credit Reuters

Above French President Emmanuel Macron Image Credit Reuters

The air travel disruption added to the problems caused by the rail strikes, which began on Monday evening and are set to continue through Wednesday, is being observed by the four main rail unions and led by state railway SNCF. At Gare du Nord, Paris's busiest station, platforms were so crowded that some commuters tumbled onto tracks; other stations were plunged into darkness, the lights and ticket machines switched off. The strikes of 1995 paralysed France and forced Prime Minister Alain Juppe to pull the reforms - a defeat that ultimately prompted Juppe to quit and then-president Jacques Chirac to dissolve the government. "But. we also need to respect the millions of French who want to be able to get to work", he said.

"This reform is essential", Elisabeth Borne, transport minister said on BFM Tuesday, though she said she's still willing to make some changes to meet union demands.

In a bid to boost efficiency, the government wants to end rail workers' jobs-for-life, automatic annual pay rises and early retirement rights - benefits that date back to the nationalisation of the SNCF in the 1930s. An Ifop poll released over the weekend said 46 percent think the SNCF strike is justified, while 53 percent say it isn't.

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Rail workers are protesting plans to eliminate a special status that they've enjoyed for decades.

"I must say that I hear the strikers, who speak fervently at times, as much as I hear those who do not accept this strike", Mr Philippe said. "The salaries aren't incredible, the work conditions are hard, and for some it means working every other weekend", Mr Martinez said.

In an IFOP poll published Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, 53% of the almost 1,000 people surveyed said the strike was unjustified. One in every three trains to Germany was to operate, while the Eurostar service connecting London, Paris and Brussels was down to three out of every four trains, the SNCF said. Many of his plans, particularly in the labor market, are meeting with increasing opposition from France's unions.

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The government has sought to ease tensions with assurances that the arrival of foreign competition on French rail tracks, pencilled in for gradual rollout from 2020 onwards, could be delayed until as late as 2033 in some cases.

As commuters took to the roads instead, the streets of Paris were snarled with an "exceptional" 370 km of traffic jams during the morning rush hour before easing, according to traffic website Sytadin.

The CGT has called for public and private sector workers nationwide to strike on April 19, but in a sign of union division, private sector unions have so far declined. However little impact was felt in the power sector and on nuclear-reliant France's 58 nuclear reactors operated by state-controlled utility EDF.

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