Fresh French train strikes hit travellers


French train strikes have resumed, pitting unions against the French government and causing chaos.Travellers have grappled with another crippling wave of transport strikes in France, as train workers protested President Emmanuel Macron’s economic reforms and a stand-off between the government and rail unions hardened.

Train staff last week began three months of nationwide rolling strikes in a dispute over the government’s planned overhaul of state-run railway SNCF, in the biggest challenge yet to Macron’s attempts to modernise the French economy.

Talks between workers and ministers have so far hit a wall. Some unions are stiffening their resistance, while the government has dug in its heels on the main aspects of its reform, which include the end of job-for-life guarantees for rail staff.

“The status quo is not viable,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in an interview published in the newspaper Le Parisien on Sunday. “It’s urgent, we need to advance, and everyone should know we are determined to see this through to the end.”

Officials at the Communist-rooted CGT union said on Friday strikes could drag on well beyond June if nothing shifted, adding train workers were ready for a “marathon”.

The SNCF forecast that 43 per cent of workers needed to make the train network run smoothly would walk out on Monday as stoppages continue, affecting local trains as well as regional lines and some international journeys.

That marked a slight dip in participation compared with 48 per cent in the last 48 hours of walkouts on Tuesday and Wednesday last week.

Strikes have been called for two days out of every five until the end of June, and the shutdown is already causing havoc for commuters and holiday-makers at the start of mid-term school vacations in France.

“This endangers me professionally,” said Olivier Coldefy, a court psychologist who works in French Guiana, whose travel plans fell through because of the train chaos.

“I have work days that I’ve committed to that I can’t honour,” Coldefy added on Sunday morning at Montparnasse train station in Paris, where groups of tourists were scrambling to rebook trains after realising theirs had been cancelled.

The showdown is one of the toughest challenges yet of Macron’s presidency, as well as a test for unions seeking to show they still have clout.

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