Macron Faces First Major Strike as Unions Oppose Planned Reforms

(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron faces his first day of major protest as rail workers, teachers and air-traffic controllers will walk out to oppose his plans to overhaul their status as civil-service workers and expand competition.

The test may be tough for Macron as workers plan 180 demonstrations across the country, severe disruption in commuter trains and school shutdowns. Paris public transport faces only limited disruption, with metros and buses running close to normal service. Labor unions plan their biggest protest against changes at SNCF, the indebted national railroad, with less than half of high-speed trains and as few as a quarter of regular inter-city services to run normally on Thursday.

Macron Faces First Major Strike as Unions Oppose Planned Reforms

“It’s an alert to the government,” said Laurent Berger, the head of CFDT, one of France’s four major labor unions that called the strike. “The government must hear the civil servants who are very worried,” he said on RTL on Thursday, adding that his concern was that the government wouldn’t “listen at all.”

With unions and the opposition divided, Macron has pushed through a liberalization of France’s labor code and cut taxes on capital in his first year in office. Next, he’s planning to overhaul jobless benefits, simplify France’s retirement systems and streamline parliamentary procedures.

With air-traffic controllers walking out, 30 percent of all flights arriving or departing from Paris airports will be cancelled. Air France says it will operate 60 percent of its domestic flights at Orly airport and 75 percent of its medium-haul flights from Charles de Gaulle airport.

It will be the first gauge of public support for unions ahead of a planned 36 days of strikes at the railway operator SNCF starting in early April. Taking on its 74,000 workers will be tough for Macron. Under the proposed changes, future hires at the railroad won’t have the job security, early retirement and special pensions of existing workers, and train lines will be opened to competition.

The four unions planning the strikes also are angered by the government’s decision to impose the changes by decree. Union leaders say planned consultations on the details are just window dressing.

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