French rail strike could disrupt end-of-school exams


A French railway strike entered its fourth day on Saturday as the government said it feared one of the longest stoppages in years could drag into next week, disrupting end-of-school exams for thousands of students.


Rail passengers have seen services cut or cancelled since the strike 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.

Unions fear the reform will hurt working conditions and want the two companies 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 in France and other European countries gear up for full liberalisation of the railways in coming years.

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.

Rail service disruption could complicate things for students on Monday when the baccalauréat end-of school exams start. The government’s education department was working on ways to accommodate late arrivals for the high-pressure exams, which mark the exit from secondary school.

While prolonged industrial action would increase pressure on Hollande’s Socialist government, it showed little sign of ceding to union demands as legislation on the disputed reform heads to parliament for debate next week.

“In France it’s parliament that makes legislation,” Transport Minister Frédéric Cuvillier told France Info state radio.

The SNCF rail operator said Eurostar links with Britain and Thalys links with Belgium and other countries further north were expected to run normally, but other international lines with countries such as Italy and Spain were still reduced, along with internal high-speed TV train services, by as much as 50 percent on Friday.


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