French President François Hollande on Friday called for an end to a strike by rail workers, now in its third day, that has caused travel chaos for millions across the country and is now set to run into the weekend.
“There comes a moment when we must know when to end an industrial action and be conscious of everyone’s interests,” the president told reporters.
He called on unions to continue discussions with the government to find a solution to the disagreement, which centres on planned rail reforms.
“A dialogue has been opened,” he said, “it must now be completed”.
National rail operator SNCF said it expected an “improved” service on Friday, with an average of four in ten inter-city and high speed TGV trains running, while services on regional networks would be running at half the normal rate.
On Thursday, less than a third of scheduled trains had been operating, bringing some of the worst disruption to the country’s rail network in years.
Unions want the government to abandon a plan to unite SNCF with RFF, the company that owns and maintains the French railway network, creating a single holding structure but preserving them as separate entities.
Unions instead want the two companies to be fully merged into a single operation – as was the case until 1997 – and for the government to take on some €40 billion of debt owed by the firms.
A meeting held between union representatives and France’s transport minister Frédéric Cuvillier on Thursday failed to yield an agreement.
“We are very angry with the contempt shown by the government,” SUD-Rail unionist Nathalie Bonnet told BFM TV after the talks.
“We have made no progress,” she said.
Speaking to France Info radio, Cuvillier said he “regretted” the decision by the unions to extend the strike and warned that “given the decisions that were taken” it could now be at least Monday before the industrial action comes to an end.
The rail reform is due to be debated in parliament next week.
SNCF workers fear their working conditions will be compromised and argue that longtime neglect of the tracks was a factor in a 2013 accident in which seven people were killed in a derailment attributed to a fault on a stretch of track just south of Paris.
They also argue that merging the two companies would avoid problems in the future such as a high-profile mix-up in May, when SNCF acknowledged that it had ordered 2,000 trains that were too wide for many station platforms.
The embarrassing error arose after the RFF transmitted faulty dimensions for its train platforms to the SNCF, which was in charge of ordering the trains, local media reported.
Adding to France's travel woes, Air France ground crews plan a walk-out strike on Sunday to protest against the airline’s Transform 2015 restructuring plan.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-06-12