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Rail strike "could hit Bac exams"

France's transport minister admits that SNCF dispute could affect the first day of this year’s baccalauréat

THE ONGOING rail strike in France could cause problems for students taking their baccalauréat exams, transport secretary Frédéric Cuvillier has admitted.

Worried students have taken to social media to express their concern that the strike, if it continues into Monday, could make it difficult for them to get to their exams.

Speaking on France Inter radio this morning Mr Cuvillier said that the first day of the exams could be affected by the dispute “given the position” of the two unions.

He said he would work with education minister Benoît Hamon to ensure travel disruption for students wanting to get to exam halls would be kept to a minimum.

Mr Cuvillier expressed regret that the CGT and SUD-Rail unions have decided to continue the strike, "especially as a number of advances have been made."

But, he added, his “door was open to the unions”.

Jean-Claude Mailly, secretary general of Force Ouvrière, tried to reassure worried students. Speaking on Europe 1 this morning, he said: “There is still time for a breakthrough before Monday.”

But, he added: “Reform is essential,” though he urged the government to amend the proposals.

“There are not enough safeguards,” he said.

Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, meanwhile, told BFMTV that “reform will make the railway stronger”.

He said: “The government wants a good compromise to a protracted conflict which is not good for anyone.”

Yesterday, Mr Cuvillier had hailed a significant step forward “in long discussions with unions on Wednesday and Thursday”, but both the CGT and SUD-Rail were quick to dispel hopes of a quick end to the dispute.

"The ball is in the government's court," said the CGT’s Gilbert Garrel.

He insisted the union “had not closed the door to dialogue” with the government.

“Our phones are always switched on,” he said.

Meanwhile, SUD-Rail’s Nathalie Bonnet expressed the union’s readiness to return to the negotiating table after it left Thursday’s meeting early, on condition that the government defers next week’s debate on railway reform.

But Mr Cuvillier said the debate would continue as planned. And he said that he would sign a deal on railway modernisation today with unions not involved in the current dispute, including CFDT and Unsa, repeating his mantra that he would “work with those who want to work”.

While the two sides argue, commuters are having to deal with the effects of the strike.

SNCF has said the situation has "improved" since last night, but commuters were still finding rail travel difficult this morning.

On the roads, more than 280km of tailbacks - more than twice normal levels - were reported on the roads of Ile-de-France at 8am today as people struggled into work. Shortly after 9am, tailbacks peaked at nearly 310km.

Photo: C Carlstead

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