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French lawmakers prepare to vote on controversial rail reform

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French lawmakers prepare to vote on controversial rail reform

The French National Assembly
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This Tuesday the French senate will vote on the reform of the state railway company SNCF in what the government hopes will settle one of the most important disputes President Emmanuel Macron’s administration has had to face so far.

The government says drastically changing the way the SNCF operates is crucial ahead of the opening of the sector to international players scheduled for 2020.

Rail workers however say this reform is a threat to their rights and unions have been fighting against changes to the so-called ‘cheminot’ status that grants rail workers early retirement and special pension programs. For them, what the government is proposing for the SNCF will effectively lead to the privatization of the sector.

The author of the bill National Assembly member Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, believes the government will have its way. Djebbari says it just the beginning of a long and profound set of changes to come which will be defined with the help of rail workers.

“The reform - on the political sphere - will go through. It will go through by mid-June. It will be complete. And it will be adapted to the improvement and the modernization of the rail system.

But what I want to say is that the reform will continue because starting in June there will be talks about the collective convention with all the unions around the negotiating table,” Djebbari explained.

“And from then on they will have two years to conclude this collective agreement that should become a protection tool for workers in the rail sector. So even if the reform will soon end in legislative terms, it will continue with a social dialogue and all unions and rail workers are concerned,” he added.

The SNCF reform is one of biggest battles the French government has been fighting. Several administrations before have tried to do it and backed down, now the question is whether President Emmanuel Macron will become the one who finishes the job.