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French brace for rail strike havoc as state vows to enact reform

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Travellers are facing havoc at French national railway SNCF, including on the Eurostar route between Paris and London, as a standoff intensifies between the government and unions over President Emmanuel Macron's planned reforms.

[PARIS] Travellers are facing havoc at French national railway SNCF, including on the Eurostar route between Paris and London, as a standoff intensifies between the government and unions over President Emmanuel Macron's planned reforms.

The state train operator expects disruptions for a second day on Monday, with the cancellation of about a quarter of cross-Channel trains, 80 per cent of high-speed links between French cities and two-thirds of regional trains, according to a statement. The fast Thalys link to Belgium and the Netherlands is expected to run as usual, while most commuter trains around Paris won't operate.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has vowed he won't compromise on opening up France's rail market to competition and on ending special labor privileges for future hires, Le Parisien newspaper reported Sunday, citing an interview. The state won't consider taking over SNCF's debt until the changes are made, he was quoted as saying.

Mr Macron has pledged to overhaul the indebted national railroad including by denying future hires the job security, early retirement and special pensions long-enjoyed by workers. Attempts to whittle away the benefits have bedevilled French leaders for decades. Now unions have called on workers to step up strikes after failing to gain concessions from the state during talks last week.

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SNCF employees are heavily unionised and united, with the current walkout scheduled to last until 8 a.m. on Tuesday. Labor groups have planned a series of two-day stoppages every five days until at least June.

An Ifop poll published Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche showed 44 per cent of respondents believe the rail strike is justified, down from 46 percent last weekend, while 62 per cent said the government should carry out the reforms without making concessions and 72 per cent said they'd welcome competition on high-speed and regional lines.

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