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Strikes Over Macron's Rail Reforms Could Cripple France for Three Months.

Summary: TEHRAN (FNA)- A top SNCF official said rolling strikes aimed at challenging French President Emmanuel Macron's plans to overhaul France's rail system and cut rail workers' special employment rights will "hopefully" last less than three months.

Only 12 percent of high-speed TGV trains and one in five regional services were running on what is being referred to as 'Black Tuesday', plunging France into travel chaos, Express reported.

When asked whether the nationwide strikes to protest against the centrist government's plans to push through sweeping changes to the state-run SNCF would last three months as planned, Mathias Vicherat, the rail firm's deputy director general, said that negotiations between rail unions and the government were "ongoing."

"We hope that the strike action will not spread over three months," he told France's Europe 1 radio.

France's four main rail unions are planning to strike on two in every five days for the next three months -- a total of 36 days of disruption -- to protest against the planned overhaul of the heavily indebted rail operator, which includes a controversial plan to scrap rail workers' special status, which guarantees them a job for life and early retirement.

Dubbed "Black Tuesday" by the media, the strike has already caused nationwide disruption for France's 4.5 million rail passengers.

Almost half of all train staff and more than 75 percent of drivers walked out, leaving only one in eight high-speed TGV trains and one in five regional trains operating.

The rail reform also includes plans to change the SNCF structure, turning it into a publicly listed company, a move unions warn is a first step towards privatisation.

Garbage collectors, Air France airline staff and energy sector workers also staged anti-Macron strikes to protest against the government's ambitious reform agenda on Tuesday.

Gabriel Attal, a Spokesperson for Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party, called on France to end its "strike culture" in light of the protests.

"I don't understand this strike, which will hit French people the hardest... We need to rid this country of its strike culture," he told France Inter radio on Monday.

Far-left deputy Alexis Corbiere was quick to hit back at Attal's comments, accusing him of showing contempt to those "striking to defend the French public sector."

"Strikers are not having fun... they lose a day's wages every time they go on strike," Corbiere told Europe 1.

Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne, for her part, said that she would privilege dialogue to solve the crisis, adding that the government would "stand firm" on the rail reform.

"Some [labour unions] are clearly trying to turn this into a political issue," she told the news channel BFM TV, underlining that "I favour dialogue.... The [rail] reform must be carried out."

A majority of French people view the strikes as unjustified, according to an IFOP poll published on Sunday.

The poll, conducted for the conservative weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, showed that 51 percent of respondents thought that the government should "complete the rail reform as it has been announced."

However, some 46 percent found the strike "justified", up four percentage points from IFOP's previous poll two weeks ago.

The IFOP poll of 954 people was carried out over the phone between March 30 and March 31.

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Publication:FARS News Agency
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Apr 4, 2018
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