President Macron sets political trap for France's railway workers

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A government-commissioned report on France's railway sector has put reform of the employment status and supposedly “exorbitant privileges” of the country's railway workers firmly at the centre of the political agenda. These changes would themselves save around 100 million to 150 million euros in savings over ten years – a modest amount compared with the massive debts of the train operator SNCF. But as Martine Orange reports, the French presidency's real aim is to win a political battle by getting pubic opinion on its side.

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How can they avoid the trap set by the government? After their first individual meetings with France's transport minister Elisabeth Borne on March 1st, the four main unions representing workers at France's public train operator SNCF - CGT cheminots, CFDT cheminots, Unsa ferroviaire and Sud-Rail – all made the same observation: that the negotiations with the government about the future of the SNCF and more broadly of the rail industry are a facade. “We were not at all reassured,' said Laurent Brun, the secretary general of the CGT cheminots, after his meeting with the minister. He said his union would take part in subsequent meetings with “few illusions”.