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French unions threaten Christmas and New Year rail strike

Current negotiations on salaries look set to break down

Those returning home for Christmas will be impacted if strike action takes place Pic: Victor Velter / Shutterstock

One of the major French rail unions is calling for its workers to strike over the Christmas period, which could cause chaos on the nation’s rail network.

SUD Rail has called on other major unions in the sector including the CGT, CFDT and Unsa-Ferroviaire to come together and “construct a powerful strike movement” over the holiday season.

The union is primed to reject a salary negotiation put forward by rail executives last week that would provide an average 4.6% salary increase and a one-off cost of living bonus (prime de partage de la valeur) of €400 for some employees. 

“In reality, it's a 1.8% general increase and that's not enough. We are constantly chasing inflation. Everything is going up, railway workers are not getting by,” said Julien Troccaz, secretary of SUD Rail.

Further information is expected next Wednesday (November 22), as negotiations between SUD rail and rail chiefs are taking place until then – although it looks like these will break down.

“What is emerging [during discussions] is that the vast majority are opposed to the signing of the agreement,” said Erik Meyer, another secretary of SUD Rail.

Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Mondays this holiday period, meaning weekend strike action would impact hundreds of thousands of people travelling to see their families.

Read also: Ouigo €19 deal in France and look to book February TGV tickets

Rail bosses believe offer is fair

SNCF executives believe their offer is fair – alongside the 4.6% raise, additional raises proposed for the lowest workers mean that everyone would earn at least 10% more than the Smic (France’s minimum wage). 

Alongside raises from 2022 and 2023, the proposed raises would mean a salary increase of almost 17% over the last three years for rail employees. 

Union leaders, however, say this is “dishonest communication” from the SNCF, as it fails to take in cost-of-living rises and inflation in France, and raises do not affect all employees equally.

They are seeking a uniform pay rise, which would be about €400 per month for workers – something the SNCF has said would “cost just under €700 million.”

The union is firm on this point and says without it being met it is considering "the possibility of one or more days of action in December, including the major departures,” said Erik Meyer.

Other unions may join in

The other unions which could join SUD Rail have been quiet on the issue as they are currently undergoing their own negotiations with rail executives. 

However, it is likely that if no agreement is reached between unions and bosses, that a coordinated strike could take place, particularly as one of the groups being called to action is the CGT, often seen as France’s most radical union.

In 2022, a Christmas strike by ticket inspectors caused chaos for families travelling on the network.

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