French Rail Strike Slackens After Macron Shows Resolve on Reform

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(Bloomberg) -- A French rail strike lost momentum on Friday after President Emmanuel Macron vowed he wouldn’t back down on plans to overhaul the state operator SNCF.

About one high-speed train out of three was expected to run, with the same proportion of regional trains in service, the railway said on its website. This was more than during two previous waves of strikes, when fewer than one in six were running. The SNCF said 38 percent of workers were participating in the strike compared with 43 percent on Monday and 48 percent during the first wave of walkouts April 3 and 4.

The Eurostar high-speed link between Paris and London canceled five trains in each direction, about the same as on previous strike days.

French unions are spearheading a series of two-day strikes every week through June to protest the government’s plans to end for new recruits the privileges railworkers have long enjoyed on job security, early retirement and special pensions. The government says the steps are necessary to cap the SNCF’s debt as it confronts the opening up of the sector to competition.

In a television interview Thursday, Macron said he will carry the railway reforms “until the end.” Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on France 2 Friday morning that “the rail service must be ready for the opening of competition. The status quo is not possible.”

While saying it won’t back down on the main planks of its reforms, the government has continued to talk to unions about details, such as to what degree can existing SNCF employees carry over their current status if they are hired by new rail companies that enter the market. Laurent Berger, leader of the CFDT union, said on RTL Friday that there had been some advances in those talks.

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