A strike by French railway workers will continue into a sixth day on Monday, unions have said, threatening to disrupt the first day of end-of-school exams for thousands of students across the country.
Rail passengers have seen services cut or cancelled since the strike by the CGT and Sud-Rail unions began late on Tuesday over government plans to bring the SNCF rail operator and the RFF network under the roof of one holding company, while keeping their operations separate.
Disruption continued on Sunday, with a little over one in two high-speed TGV rail services operating, while just four in ten intercity and regional trains were expected to run.
Similar levels of disruption on Monday could make life difficult for thousands of students due to sit the first of their baccalauréat exams – taken by French students at the end of high school and the main diploma required to enter university.
SNCF has said it will put a number of measures in place to help ensure students are able to travel to exam centres on time, including mobilising 10,000 staff to offer assistance to students using the rail network and guaranteeing services at key times on lines most likely to be used by those taking exams.
The government has said that students who arrive for their exams up to an hour late will be given extra time at the end to compensate.
The ongoing strike has been criticised by both politicians and other rail unions.
President François Hollande called for an end to the strike on Friday, urging the unions to go back to work.
“This does not mean the dialogue cannot continue but the time has come and this industrial action must come to an end” he said.
On Saturday, the head of the moderate CFDT union, Laurent Berger, also called for an end to the industrial action, which he said was causing "too many people to sweat".
The striking unions though have remained steadfast in their demand for a parliamentary debate due to be held on the proposed rail reforms next week to be postponed.
They fear the proposals will hurt working conditions and want SNCF and RFF fully merged into a single company as they were before 1997.
They also want the government to take on some 40 billion euros ($54.5 billion) in debt owed by the two firms.
The government says the reform is needed to create a coherent structure for the railways as France and other European countries gear up for full liberalisation of the railways in coming years.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-06-15