A LONG-running strike by train drivers and conductors has seriously harmed the image of French public transport, a consumer group has warned.
The walkout began on April 7 and affected services across France, especially in the south.
Unlike the two other one-day strikes called so far this year, this strike was for an indefinite period and coincided with the peak Easter holiday getaway.
Public transport users’ body Fnaut said the SNCF had lost millions in ticket sales that could have been used to improve its services.
President Jean Sivardière said: “The strike lost the SNCF considerable sums of money that cannot then be reinvested.
“It has had a damaging impact on the image of public transport in the eyes of potential users, financial backers, the state and employers.”
He said the SNCF had done its best to keep passengers informed and refund tickets: “My feeling is that people are resigned to the fact that there is a strike – there’s a small fraction who are exasperated, but generally people have the impression that there is nothing they can do about it."
A protest group against the SNCF strike on social networking site Facebook attracted more than 1,800 members.
One contributor wrote: “It’s shameful. Going on strike is a legal right, but doing it during the school holidays amounts to taking passengers hostage.”
An SNCF employee replied: “Stop giving us grief. Take another form of transport, or come and try working at the SNCF. I have had enough of trying to defend myself.”
The CGT and Sud-Rail called the strike to demand “meaningful negotiations” about job cuts, pay and working conditions. The unions say salaries have fallen by 16% in real terms since 1982.
The two unions were unavailable to comment when asked what they felt the strike had achieved.
Workers are also concerned about plans to cut back the SNCF’s loss-making freight business and restructure other parts of the company to prepare for the opening up of the French rail network to international competition.
The SNCF, which employs 160,000 staff, points to the fact that it lost almost e1bn last year as evidence that changes need to be made.