French rail unions threaten strike action over any reform by decree

FILE PHOTO: The logo of SNCF is pictured on a train arriving at the French state-owned railway company SNCF station in Moissac, France, February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - French unions met on Tuesday to coordinate their opposition to President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the French national SNCF railway, but stopped short of an immediate strike call.

Instead, rail workers’ representatives warned the government of industrial action if it goes ahead with plans to introduce the reforms by decree, bypassing parliamentary debate.

SNCF unions were instrumental in engineering the last retreat by a French government on major economic reforms when, in 1995, they led three weeks of strikes that forced then Prime Minister Alain Juppe to resign.

“The message is that if there’s a plan (for decrees) tabled in cabinet, there will be a call issued for rolling strikes,” Sud-Rail official Erik Meyer said after the meeting with CGT, Unsa and CFDT counterparts.

The unions are threatening action over reform plans that would scrap the job-for-life guarantees enjoyed by workers since the railways’ 1930s nationalisation. But opinion polls suggest President Macron so far has the public on his side, with 69 percent support for more flexible contracts.

The centre-left CFDT union, which had initially proposed a March 14 strike call, agreed instead on plans to meet again the following day, when coordinated action could still be decided.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire had urged unions to reconsider, saying the SNCF could not go on losing 3 billion euros ($3.7 billion) a year and struggling under debts of 45 billion euros.

($1 = 0.8108 euros)

Additional reporting by Julie Carriat, Caroline Paillez and Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Laurence Frost; Editing by Alison Williams