Why can't rail strikers just refuse to take our money?

"Free strike", in which services run as normal but passengers are not charged, mooted as an alternative to rail unions' "two in five" strikes - but there is a problem

While commuters struggle into work on Monday on day two of the second 48-hour rail strike, one union has suggested a way to protest against the planned reforms without affecting services. But there's a problem.

SUD-Rail is among the unions that would prefer to organise what is known as a "free strike", in which rail services would run normally, but the public would not be made to buy tickets by conductors.

So far, the "two in five" strike has cost SNCF "about €100million," according to the rail operator's CEO Guillaume Pepy.

The union says it would successfully highlight their cause, force action from SNCF and would not adversely affect commuters. Public opinion appears to be swinging away from the rail unions, with an Ifop poll published Sunday by the Journal du Dimanche showing 62% of French people in favour of the SNCF reform.

But, while a free strike would undoubtedly be much more popular with commuters and travellers, it is illegal, SUD-Rail has said. "Legally, we do not have the right. We have been reminded of this by the company on several occasions. Controllers have an obligation to make their rounds. Otherwise, we'd be on a free strike in minutes," a spokesman told LCI.

Conductors were sanctioned for taking part in a free strike in 1989 - with SNCF citing "professional misconduct" among those who refused to take payment for tickets.

SUD-Rail and the Fédération des usagers des transports et des services publics issued a statement in 2009 calling for the legalisation of free strikes, citing European case law in which a similar non-payment strike was declared lawful two years' previously.

At the time, SNCF cited insurance issues as the key reason for not permitting free strikes', and said that, for Transilien or TER services, the main loser would not be the company but regional authorities as SNCF is paid on a train-kilometre basis regardless of the number of passengers.

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