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French trains set for ‘major disruptions’ Monday due to strikes

Christophe Archambault, AFP file picture | Workers at national railway operator SNCF began their rolling strike action in the beginning of April

French train traffic will see some ‘major disruptions’ on Monday, France’s national railway operator warned Sunday, as the company’s workers begin the latest rolling strike action to protest government reforms.

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“Tomorrow (Monday) will be a very difficult day,” national railway operator SNCF said in a statement, adding that an average of only one in three of the country’s fast-speed (TGV) and regional (TER and Transiliens) trains are expected to run.

Traffic on the country’s “classic” city-to-city train lines, known as Intercités, is expected to be hit even harder, with an average of only one in five trains running.

In the Ile-de-France region, traffic on the commuter train lines (RER) will also be disrupted, with as few as one in three trains running at times.

The SNCF also warned that it had received threats of “blockages”, which it said could translate into protesting workers occupying stations, rail lines and other SNCF related buildings.

The railway workers, or cheminots as they are known in France, are protesting a government reform that includes the gradual phase-out of the SNCF’s passenger rail monopoly, starting with competition on high-speed lines in 2020, and an end to hiring SNCF staff on the more protective job-for-life contracts than in other sectors.

A third part of the reform will change the SNCF’s corporate structure to a joint-stock company. While the government says it will remain 100 percent state-owned, unions fear that it will open the door to privatisation, as happened after similar changes at France Telecom, now called Orange.

The cheminots began their rolling strike action at the beginning of April, vowing to walk off their jobs for two out of every five days until the end of June, adding up to a total of 36 days.

The latest rolling strike action began on Saturday night and is scheduled to end on Tuesday morning.

The rail strikes are seen as the biggest challenge yet to President Emmanuel Macron's sweeping plans to liberalise the French economy and make it more competitive.

In April, however, the French parliament took the first step in approving the railway reform bill. It will now go to the Senate and the process of parliamentary approval is expected to conclude by early July.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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